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The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), known between 1901–1988 as the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), is a non-regulatory agency of the United States Department of Commerce. The institute's mission is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve quality of life.

NIST had an operating budget for fiscal year 2007 (October 1, 2006-September 30, 2007) of about $843.3 million.[1] NIST employs about 2,900 scientists, engineers, technicians, and support and administrative personnel. About 1,800 NIST associates (guest researchers and engineers from American companies and foreign nations) complement the staff. In addition, NIST partners with 1,400 manufacturing specialists and staff at nearly 350 affiliated centers around the country.


NIST's headquarters are 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 engineering, and building and fire research); the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (HMEP), a nationwide network of centers to assist small manufacturers; the Advanced Technology Program (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.

NIST's Boulder laboratories are best known for NIST-F1, one of the world's two most accurate atomic clocks. (The other is in Paris, France). 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 longwave radio station WWVB at Fort Collins, Colorado, and shortwave radio stations WWV and WWVH, located at Fort Collins, Colorado and Kekaha, Hawaii, respectively.


Light from the NIST SURF III Synchrotron Ultraviolet Radiation Facility

NIST manages some of the world’s most specialized measurement facilities—including a cost effective NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) user facility where cutting edge research is done on new and improved materials, advanced fuel cells, and biotechnology. The SURF III Synchrotron Ultraviolet Radiation Facility is the world's senior dedicated source of synchrotron radiation, in continuous operation since 1961. SURF III now serves as the US primary national standard for source-based radiometry throughout the generalized optical spectrum: from infrared through extreme ultraviolet.

NIST's Advanced Measurement Laboratory (AML) is among the most technically advanced research facilities of its kind in the world. The AML offers American researchers opportunities to make the most sensitive and reliable measurements. This is important as new technologies become more complex and smaller.

Based in the AML is the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST). The CNST's prime objective is to lay the technical groundwork necessary to translate nanotechnology’s many anticipated offerings into practical realities—manufacturable, market-ready products. To accomplish this goal, the center leverages and combines the diverse knowledge and capabilities of NIST, industry, academia, and other government agencies to support all phases of nanotechnology development. The CNST features a Nanofabrication (Nanofab) Facility. CNST's “clean room” is equipped with an array of state-of-the-art tools for making, testing, and characterizing prototype nanoscale devices and materials. These instruments will be available to collaborators and outside users through a proposal process.

Measurements and standards

As part of its mission, NIST supplies industry, academia, government and other users with over 1,300 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, 50 g)
  • Natural water (SRM 1640, $198, 250 mL)
  • Peanut butter (SRM 2387, $501, three 6 oz (170 g) jars)


NIST has 7 standing committees:

  • Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC)
  • Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction (ACEHR)
  • National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee (NCST Advisory Committee)
  • Information Security and Privacy Advisory Board (ISPAB)
  • Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT)
  • Baldrige National Quality Program Board of Overseers (BNQP Board of Overseers)
  • Manufacturing Extension Partnership National Advisory Board (MEPNAB)

Homeland security

NIST is currently developing government-wide identification card standards for federal employees and contractors to prevent unauthorized persons from gaining access to government buildings and computer systems.

Collapse of the World Trade Center

In 2002 the National Construction Safety Team Act mandated NIST to conduct an investigation into the collapse of the World Trade Center, as well as the 47-story 7 World Trade Center. The investigation covered three aspects, including 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. NIST also established 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 early in 2008 with the release of the final report on 7 World Trade Center. The final report on the WTC Towers -- including 30 recommendations for improving building and occupant safety -- was released on October 26, 2005.[2]

Election technology

NIST works in conjunction with the Technical Guidelines Development Committee of the Election Assistance Commission to develop the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines for voting machines and other election technology.

Further information: certification of voting machines


Three researchers at NIST have been awarded Nobel Prizes for their work in physics, William D. Phillips in 1997, Eric A. Cornell in 2001 and John L. Hall in 2005. Other notable people who have worked at NIST include

  • Milton Abramowitz
  • James S. Albus
  • Ferdinand Brickwedde
  • Lyman James Briggs
  • John W. Cahn
  • William Coblentz
  • Keith Codling
  • Ronald Colle
  • Philip J. Davis
  • Hugh L. Dryden
  • Ugo Fano
  • Charlotte Froese Fischer
  • Douglas Hartree
  • Magnus Hestenes
  • Cornelius Lanczos
  • Theodore Madey
  • Wilfrid Mann
  • Frank W. J. Olver
  • Ward Plummer
  • Jacob Rabinow
  • Charlotte Moore Sitterly
  • Irene Stegun
  • Bill Stone


The director of NIST is a Presidential appointment and confirmed by the Senate. Thirteen persons have held the position (in addition to three acting directors who served temporarily). They are:

  • Samuel W. Stratton, 1901-1922
  • George K. Burgess, 1923-1932
  • Lyman J. Briggs, 1932-1945
  • Edward U. Condon, 1945-1951
  • Allen V. Astin, 1951-1969
  • Lewis M. Branscomb, 1969-1972
  • Richard W. Roberts, 1973-1975
  • Ernest Ambler, 1975-1989
  • John W. Lyons, 1990-1993
  • Arati Prabhakar, 1993-1997
  • Raymond G. Kammer, 1997-2000
  • Karen Brown (acting director), 2000-2001
  • Arden L. Bement Jr., 2001-2004
  • Hratch Semerjian (acting director), 2004-2005
  • William Jeffrey, 2005-2007
  • James Turner (acting director), 2007-Present

See also

  • National Software Reference Library
  • Inorganic Crystal Structure Database (ICSD)
  • International System of Units, see International Bureau of Weights and Measures
  • ISO 17025


  1. NIST budget, planning and economic analysis. National Institute of Standards and Technology. URL accessed on 2006-12-24.
  2. Final Reports of the Federal Building and Fire Investigation of the World Trade Center Disaster. National Institute of Standards and Technology.

External links

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