As a non-regulatory agency of the United States Department of Commerce’s Technology Administration, the National Institute of Standards (NIST) develops and promotes measurement, standards, and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade, and improve the quality of life. As part of this mission, NIST scientists and engineers continually refine the science of measurement, making possible the ultraprecise engineering and manufacturing required for today’s most advanced technologies. They also are directly involved in standards development and testing done by the private sector and government agencies. NIST was originally called the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), a name that it had from 1901 until 1988.
NIST's headquarters are located in Gaithersburg, Maryland. It also has laboratories in Boulder, Colorado.
NIST has four major programs through which it helps U.S. industry: the NIST Laboratories (physics, information technology, chemical science and technology, electronics and electrical engineering, materials science and engineering, manufacturing enginering, and building and fire research); the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or HMEP, a nationwide network of centers to assist small manufacturers; the Advanced Technology Program, or ATP, a grant program where NIST and industry partners cost share the early-stage development of innovative but high-risk technologies; and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Program, the nation's highest award for performance and business excellence.
U.S. technological innovation and progress depend on NIST’s unique skills and capabilities, especially in four key areas: biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology and advanced manufacturing.
NIST's Boulder laboratories are best known for NIST-F1, the world's most accurate atomic clock. NIST-F1 serves as the source of the nation's official time. From its precise measurement of the natural resonance frequency of cesium -- which is used to define the second -- NIST broadcasts time signals via shortwave radio stations WWV and WWVH, and longwave WWVB.
As part of its mission, NIST supplies industry, academia, government and other users with over 1300 Standard Reference Materials (SRMs) of the highest quality and metrological value. These artifacts are certified as having specific characteristics or component content, making them valuable as calibration standards for measuring equipment and procedures, quality control benchmarks for industrial processes, and experimental control samples for all kinds of laboratories. For example, NIST SRMs for the food manufacturing sector include:
- Typical Diet (SRM 1548a, $624)
- Non-Fat Milk Powder (SRM 1549, $318, 100 g)
- Oyster Tissue (SRM 1566b, $540, 25 g)
- Wheat Flour (SRM 1567a, $418, 80 g)
- Rice Flour (SRM 1568a, $390, 80 g)
- Bovine Liver (SRM 1577b, $261, $50 g)
- Tomato Leaves (SRM 1573A, $332.00, $50 g)
- Natural Water (SRM 1640, $198.00, 250 mL)
- Peanut butter (SRM 2387, $501, three 6 oz (170 g) jars)
Two researchers at NIST were awarded Nobel prizes for their work in physics, William D. Phillips in 1997 and Eric A. Cornell in 2001.
NIST manages some of the world’s most specialized measurement facilities--including an unmatched and extraordinarily cost-effective National Center for Neutron Research user facility where cutting-edge research is done on new and improved materials, advanced fuel cells, and biotechnology. NIST recently dedicated its new Advanced Measurement Laboratory (AML), considered the most technically advanced research facility of its kind in the world. The AML offers American researchers unparalleled opportunities for making the most sensitive and reliable measurements. That’s increasingly important as new technologies become more complex and smaller—-and more dependent on the most accurate possible measurements in order to move from theory, proof of concept, and prototypes into products.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks by terrorists , NIST is playing a key role in enhancing the nation’s homeland security. Through projects spanning a wide range of research areas, NIST is helping the millions of individuals in law enforcement, the military, emergency services, information technology, airport and building security, and other areas protect the American public from terrorist threats. For example, NIST is currently developing government-wide identification card standards for federal employees and contractors to prevent terrorists, criminals and other unauthorized people from getting into government buildings and computer systems.
In response to the September 11, 2001, attacks by terrorists on New York City's World Trade Center complex, NIST has a three-part plan: a technical building and fire safety investigation to study the factors contributing to the probable cause of the collapses of the WTC Towers (WTC 1 and 2) and WTC 7; a research and development program to provide the technical basis for improved building and fire codes, standards, and practices; and a dissemination and technical assistance program to engage leaders of the construction and building community in implementing proposed changes to practices, standards and codes. NIST also is providing practical guidance and tools to better prepare facility owners, contractors, architects, engineers, emergency responders, and regulatory authorities to respond to future disasters. The investigation portion of the response plan is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2005.
See also: standardization, calibration, traceability, measurement.