NIST’s Investigations of Structural Disasters: What We Do and Why They Can Take Years to Complete

My Background in Disasters It seems as though I was born to be a disaster researcher. I can vividly remember seeking shelter during tornado warnings in the basement at friends’ or relatives’ houses, or in the church at the end of our street as a young child living in Wichita, Kansas. When I was 9 years old, my family moved to Hawaii when my stepdad, an Army officer, was stationed there. While we lived there, my dad’s house back in Oklahoma…

New Jersey’s ‘Radium Girls’ and the NIST-Trained Scientist Who Came to Their Aid

Radiation expert and historian Bert Coursey, who has worked at NIST for 50 years, writes extensively on the history of radium and radiation standards. He recently reviewed NIST’s connection with the radium dial workers — notably the role of one heroic woman — in the Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Below is a condensed version of the full story that you can read here. Beginning in the 1910s and continuing through the 1920s, more than…

In a Changing Climate, Resilience Research Can Help Communities ‘Make Decisions for a Better Future’

Climate change keeps NIST economist Jennifer Helgeson up at night. Not with worry, but with work. For the last several weeks, Helgeson was working on the latest report from the IPCC. Source: Taking Measure – A NIST Blog…

Piecing Together the Profiles of Two NIST Chemists Taken Too Soon

On April 13, 1975, in the community of Wheaton, Maryland, a lone shooter allegedly targeting Black people wounded five and took the lives of two others over the course of 30 minutes before he was killed by police. The two slain victims, Connie Stanley and John Sligh Jr., were both chemists at NIST (known at the time as the National Bureau of Standards). News reports indicated that they might have known each other through their work. But they were in separate…

Saving Lives by Making Upholstered Furniture More Resistant to Fire

Fires that begin on upholstered furniture such as sofas are the leading cause of home fire fatalities in the United States, accounting for about 600 deaths per year. They are not as frequent as cooking fires, but they are about 14 times more likely to result in death than other home fires. Since my days as a graduate student, I have devoted my research life to the cutting-edge science that can help reduce these fires and make our homes safer. I…

Teeth: From Materials Science to Dentistry and Evolutionary Biology

As a happily retired materials scientist from NIST, I have continued a long-standing interest in how materials deform and fracture under high stress. My research began in the 1960s with fundamental investigations into the way intrinsically brittle solids can sustain highly concentrated stresses beneath hard contacts. (An everyday example of such a contact is a round pellet fired from a BB gun at a windowpane.) Later, my focus turned to studying materials in a broad range of small-scale technological applications, such…

Solving a Robotics Puzzle During a Summer Internship at NIST

For nine years, I have been obsessed with the Rubik’s Cube. It is a puzzle that has simultaneously stumped and interested the whole world since it was first invented, something few other puzzles can claim. However, while most people are satisfied after solving the cube once, I wasn’t. I wanted to understand what I did, not just read it from a book. So I went to the internet and started down the rabbit hole. I learned new methods and algorithms. I…

The Trials and Triumphs of a Small City’s Hurricane Recovery Could Help Other Communities Bounce Back

In September 2018, a North Carolina city’s long road to recovery from Hurricane Matthew two years earlier became even longer. Lumberton, a small but diverse city of 21,000 people, 96 kilometers (60 miles) inland from the coast, unfortunately found itself in Hurricane Florence’s sights. The Lumber River, which bisects the city, swelled greatly. The flooding damaged hundreds of buildings, causing many residents to abandon their homes. NIST researchers, ourselves included, had first visited Lumberton in 2016, not long after Hurricane Matthew…

My First Semiconductor Standards Were a Bust … or Were They?

Silicon is the most important semiconductor in the world. It forms the chips that are used for memory and processors in high-end computers, everyday consumer electronics and now in tiny little gadgets that do amazing things. But there is one thing that silicon cannot do well: produce light. For those devices that emit light, we use a class of materials called compound semiconductors. These materials incorporate two, three or even four atomic elements alloyed together to form a crystal. Varying the…