2012-10-10 / Local & State

Hendricks Wins Research Grant

Leads team of scientists at NIST


Jay Hendricks prepares to measure vacuum pressure at the National Institute of Science and Technology. Jay Hendricks prepares to measure vacuum pressure at the National Institute of Science and Technology. McConnellsburg High School graduate Jay Hendricks wants to find better ways to make accurate measurements. His proposal to measure pressure in gasses, using lasers to measure refractive index (the speed of light in gases compared to the speed of light in a vacuum) to determine their pressure, has been accepted. Because the work will be done with helium gas (where the refractive index is known from theory) the method enables an entirely new primary pressure standard.

Right now, gas or air pressure is measured using mercury as a primary standard. Hendricks’ job involves standardizing industrial, commercial and scientific vacuum gauges at the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST). The accuracy of every vacuum gauge produced, including your tire pressure gauge and the one on your pressure cooker, depends on the work he does at NIST.

The quote “Anybody got some helium?” appears with his picture on page 54 of the MHS 1985 yearbook. That’s prophetic, since his current work depends on the properties of helium lasers and helium gas. He needs helium more now than ever to do his work.

Hendricks presented the idea of using lasers instead of mercury to scientists at NIST, as well as to a recent international conference of scientists held in South Korea. He will head the research team that will investigate and implement making the change in standardization.

“There is lots of work to do to make such a big change in how things are measured”, Hendricks stated. “Mercury is a hazard to work with and its vapor goes everywhere while measurements are being made. Laser light can easily be controlled in the laboratory environment, and measurements can be made quickly compared to the old way. These measurements will be even more accurate, which is essential in a technological society like ours.”

The research team he will head won the 2012 Innovations in Measurement Science Award for the proposal at NIST. The grant for the beginning the research exceeds $5 million.

Hendricks graduated from McConnellsburg High School in 1985. He went on to earn a degree in chemistry at Penn State and a doctorate in physical chemistry at John Hopkins before beginning work as a research scientist at NIST. He now lives in Clarksburg, Md., with his family.

IMS Awards enable NIST scientists to explore the highrisk, leading-edge research concepts that can make significant breakthroughs in measurement science with important impacts on industry and science.

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