President Barack Obama today announced his intent to nominate physicist Patrick Gallagher to be the 14th director of the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Gallagher, 46, is currently the NIST deputy director.
 
“NIST is a unique agency with a strong culture of world-class scientific achievement,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. “Pat Gallagher has come up through the ranks and his continued leadership will be critical to an agency that is central to the nation’s ability to innovate and compete in global markets.” 
 
If confirmed by the Senate, Gallagher will direct an agency with an annual budget of approximately $800 million that employs approximately 2,900 scientists, engineers, technicians, support staff and administrative personnel at two primary locations: Gaithersburg, Md., and Boulder, Colo. Gallagher will succeed William Jeffrey, who left NIST in 2007.
 
Though perhaps most widely known as the civilian provider of the nation’s standard time service, NIST also conducts research in measurement science, standards, and related technologies spanning all physical sciences, engineering and information technology. 
 
The agency also is home to the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a nationwide network of local centers offering technical and business assistance to smaller manufacturers; the Technology Innovation Program, which provides cost-shared awards to industry, universities and consortia for research on potentially revolutionary technologies that address critical national and societal needs; and the Baldrige National Quality Program, which promotes performance excellence among U.S. manufacturers, service companies, educational institutions, health care providers and nonprofit organizations.
 
Gallagher, who has a doctorate in physics from the University of Pittsburgh, came to the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) in 1993 to pursue research in neutron and X-ray instrumentation and studies of soft-condensed matter systems such as liquids, polymers and gels. 
 
In 2000, Gallagher was a NIST agency representative at the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) and became active in U.S. policy for scientific user facilities. In 2006, he was awarded a Department of Commerce Gold Medal, the department’s highest award, in recognition of this work. In 2004, he became director of the NCNR, a national user facility for neutron research that is considered one of the most productive and heavily used facilities of its type in the nation. In September 2008, he was appointed deputy director of NIST.
 
Gallagher is active in a variety of professional organizations and is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
 
Founded in 1901, NIST is a nonregulatory agency of the Commerce Department that promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.

Energy Efficient Tape Solution Simplifies Backup with Easy Management, Integrated Security and Intelligent Self-Monitoring

 
Spectra Logic announced the U.S. Army’s Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) agency in Michigan awarded Spectra Logic with a federal contract for two Spectra T950 tape libraries using LTO-4 technology.
 
The U.S. Army TARDEC removed a Sun StorageTek L700e tape library and replaced it with the T950, and realized immediate savings in backup operator time and cost, freed several square feet of data center floor space, increased capacity by 990 percent and eased administration through the library’s user-friendly management interface.  With two Spectra T950 libraries, the U.S. Army TARDEC was able to designate one for classified data and the other for unclassified data, which eased its administrative burden. The Spectra T950 tape libraries work with Symantec NetBackup software to back up and protect more than 22TB of data weekly.
 
“Spectra Logic continues to expand its presence throughout the Department of Defense with this recent success at the Army TARDEC,” said Brian Grainger, vice president of sales. “The Spectra T950 leads the market with the highest storage density available today along with significant energy and space savings, and ease of use, all contributing significantly to the U.S. Army contract award.”

Simulation Provides Key Insights in the Design and Optimization of Solar Cells

Synopsys today announced that the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a leading government laboratory pursuing research in photovoltaic devices, has adopted Synopsys' Sentaurus TCAD for simulating solar cell characteristics to improve performance.

Photovoltaic technologies play a significant role in the worldwide push for the development and deployment of renewable sources of energy to reduce carbon emissions. NREL is at the forefront of these developments through its research in wind and solar energy. Its many accomplishments include the development and demonstration of an inverted metamorphic triple-junction solar cell with world-record efficiency of 40.8 percent. NREL also has research programs in thin-film and third-generation solar cells. Sentaurus TCAD simulations provide NREL scientists with valuable insight into the physical mechanisms that drive solar cell performance, thereby supporting the development of more efficient solar cell designs.  The simulations include the definition of the solar radiation incident on the cell, its reflection and transmission through anti-reflective coatings and surface texturing, and the absorption of the light and conversion to electrical current within semiconductor regions of the cell.

"Solar cells are very complex, with many material layers and design trade-offs affecting major performance metrics such as efficiency," said Dean Levi, a principal scientist at NREL. "We view simulation as an important tool to understand the internal physics of our designs and to point towards ways to improve them."

NREL has recently implemented Sentaurus TCAD to create polycrystalline thin-film CuInGaSe2, Cadmium telluride (CdTe), and silicon solar cell models.  These models have illustrated how material properties, grain boundaries, non-uniformity and interdigitated designs affect both device performance and characterization.

"The photovoltaic industry is experiencing tremendous growth and continues to drive toward higher efficiency and innovative solar cell designs," said Howard Ko, general manager and senior vice president of the Silicon Engineering Group at Synopsys. "Our Sentaurus TCAD tools offer many capabilities to simulate solar cell operation and performance characteristics to guide design improvements.  Having NREL as a user of our tools enables us to better understand the challenges and new directions of the fast-changing photovoltaic field."

Increased amounts of air pollution in China over last 50 years reduces days of rain by up to a quarter

New research shows that air pollution in eastern China has reduced the amount of light rainfall over the past 50 years and decreased by 23 percent the number of days of light rain in the eastern half of the country. The results suggest that bad air quality might be affecting the country's ability to raise crops as well as contributing to health and environmental problems.

The study links for the first time high levels of pollutants in the air with conditions that prevent the light kind of rainfall critical for agriculture. Led by atmospheric scientist Yun Qian at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the study appears August 15 in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres.

"People have long wondered if there was a connection, but this is the first time we've observed it from long-term data," said Qian. "Besides the health effects, acid rain and other problems that pollution creates, this work suggests that reducing air pollution might help ease the drought in north China."

Drier Times

China's dramatic economic growth and pollution problems provide researchers an opportunity to study the connection between air quality and climate. Rain in eastern China — where most of the country's people and pollution exist — is not like it used to be.

Over the last 50 years, the southern part of eastern China has seen increased amounts of total rainfall per year. The northern half has seen less rain and more droughts. But light rainfall that sustains crops has decreased everywhere. A group of climate researchers from the U.S., China and Sweden wanted to know why light rain patterns haven't followed the same precipitation patterns as total rainfall.

Previous work has shown that pollution can interfere with light rain above oceans, so the team suspected pollution might have something to do with the changes over land. Light rain ranges from drizzles to 10 millimeters of accumulation per day and sustains agriculture. (Compared to heavy rain that causes floods, loss of light rain has serious consequences for crops.)

While the light rains have diminished, pollution has increased dramatically in China in the last half of the 20th century. For example, while China's population rose two and a half times in size, the emissions of sulfur from fossil fuel burning outpaced that considerably — rising nine times.

Sky Gremlins

Air pollution contains tiny, unseen particles of gas, water and bits of matter called aerosols. Aerosols — both natural and human-caused (anthropogenic) — do contribute to rainfall patterns, but the researchers needed to determine if pollution was to blame for China's loss of rain and how.

To find out, the team charted trends in rainfall from 1956 to 2005 in eastern China, which has 162 weather stations with complete data collected over the entire 50 years.

From this data, the team determined that both the north and south regions of eastern China had fewer days of light rain — those getting 10 millimeters per day or less — at the end of the 50 year timespan. The south lost more days — 8.1 days per decade — than the north did, at 6.9 days per decade. However, the drought-rattled north lost a greater percentage of its rainy days, about 25 percent compared to the south's 21 percent.

"No matter how we define light rain, we can see a very significant decrease of light rain over almost every station," said Qian.

Up Up & In the Way

To probe what caused the loss of rainfall, the team looked at how much water the atmosphere contained and where the water vapor traveled. Most parts of eastern China saw no significant change in the amount of water held by the atmosphere, even though light rains decreased. In addition, where the atmosphere transported water vapor didn't coincide with light rain frequency.

These results suggested that changes in large-scale movement of water could not account for the loss of the precipitation. Some of pollution's aerosols can seed clouds or form raindrops, depending on their size, composition and the conditions in which they find themselves. Because these skills likely contribute to rainfall patterns, the researchers explored the aerosols in more depth.

Cloud droplets form around aerosols, so the team determined the concentration of cloud droplets over China. They found higher concentrations of droplets when more aerosols were present. But more droplets mean that each cloud droplet is smaller, in the same way that filling 10 ice cream cones from a quart of ice cream results in smaller scoops than if the same amount were put in only five cones.

This result suggested that aerosols create smaller water droplets, which in turn have a harder time forming rainclouds. The team verified this with supercomputer models of pristine, moderately polluted or heavily polluted skies. In the most heavily polluted simulation, rain fell at significantly lower frequencies than in the pristine conditions.

An examination of the cloud and rain drops showed that these water drops in polluted cases are up to 50 percent smaller than in clean skies. The smaller size impedes the formation of rain clouds and the falling of rain.

Qian said the next step in their research is to examine new data from the DOE's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility in the central eastern Chinese city of Shouxian. The data was collected from April to December of 2008.

"This work is important because modeling studies of individual cases of pollution's effect on convective clouds have shown varying results, depending on the environmental conditions," said coauthor Ruby Leung. "The ARM data collected at Shouxian should provide more detailed measurements of both aerosols and clouds to enable us to quantify the impacts of aerosols on precipitation under different atmospheric and pollution conditions."

The work was supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within the DOE Office of Science under a bilateral agreement on regional climate research with the China Ministry of Science and Technology.

Early during World War II, German U-boats operating in the North Atlantic decimated allied shipping until a Dayton engineer helped design a fleet of computing machines that deciphered coded Nazi communications faster than the U-boat commanders could themselves. Dr. Michael Minardi uses a touch screen to demonstrate synthetic aperture radar imagery captured during a test of the Gotcha radar system over Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Air Force Research Laboratory researchers are developing Gotcha with the aid of a supercomputer that will translate in real time raw radar data into high-resolution 3-dimensional images. Gotcha is one of portfolio of research efforts to provide enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to future joint warfighters. Dr. Minardi is Gotcha program manager with AFRL's Sensors Directorate. (Air Force photo/Charles Abruzzino)

Today, the U.S. and its allies face a similar challenge from an enemy that often strikes from the shadows at a time and place of its choosing, said Dr. David Jerome, director of the Air Force Research Laboratory Sensors Directorate.

"To unravel their networks and defeat this enemy we must watch over entire cities, day and night, in all weather conditions," Dr. Jerome said.

The Gotcha radar is being developed by AFRL engineers to meet that challenge and to provide future joint warfighters with an unblinking eye over areas of interest.

But the massive amounts of raw data collected by Gotcha's synthetic aperture radar requires immense computing power to translate its city-sized stare into 3D images, zoom into areas of interest, observe minute scenery changes and track moving vehicles in complex urban environments.

That's where "Desch" comes into play. It is an SGI Altix ICE 8200 supercomputer, optimized to make sense of terabytes of streaming data in real-time and turn that data into high resolution images that can help future intelligence analysts and military decision makers turn the tide against those whose aim is to create havoc.

The Desch computer is named after Joseph Desch, who led a highly classified project to develop early computational machines to analyze and decode Nazi Enigma encrypted messages.

Mr. Desch died in 1987, never revealing, even to his family, his highly successful but secret contributions to the allied war effort.

His daughter, Deborah Desch Anderson, was among the dignitaries on hand at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Aug. 31 during a ceremony to inaugurate the Air Force's newest supercomputer.

"I don't think it's possible that any honor would fit him more," Ms. Desch said, referring to her father's intense curiosity of how complex machines work and the naming of a supercomputer dedicated to defense research in his memory.

Dr. Michael Minardi, program manager for the Gotcha radar, said the Desch supercomputer is analogous to the lens of a highly sophisticated camera.

"A camera takes a coherent light field and bends it through a series of curved glass lenses to create an image," Dr. Minardi said. "We've replaced the lens with a supercomputer which uses algorithms to mimic what a lens does in creating an image from Gotcha's raw radar data."

Gotcha was first successfully tested in 2006 with the radar staring at a 1 kilometer spot. By fall of 2010 Air Force researchers hope to demonstrate Gotcha's real-time and forensic analysis capabilities over a 5-kilometer city-sized circle.

Among a number of persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities Gotcha researchers hope to highlight is the radar's change detection-based tracker, optimized to track targets in complex urban environments like vehicles which frequently stop and start.

One of Gotcha's advantages is the flexibility of its recorded radar data coupled with the supercomputer's blazing processing speed. The same set of data can be used to look for many different things just by changing the algorithms which the supercomputer processes, said 1st Lt. Curtis Casteel, an ISR engineer with AFRL's Sensors Directorate.

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