NIST…it’s not just for calibration

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a U.S. federal agency under the Department of Commerce. Founded in 1901 as the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), the agency was the first physical science research laboratory of the federal government. It became the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 1988 to better reflect the expanded role technology development supp...
By C.G. Masi, Control Engineering May 1, 2008

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a U.S. federal agency under the Department of Commerce. Founded in 1901 as the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), the agency was the first physical science research laboratory of the federal government. It became the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 1988 to better reflect the expanded role technology development support was beginning to play in its activities.

NIST’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 our quality of life.

At the time of the agency’s founding, lack of national measurement standards was a serious problem affecting both interstate commerce and society at large. The need for standards was dramatized in 1904, when more than 1,500 buildings burned in Baltimore because of a lack of standard fire-hose couplings. When firefighters from Washington and as far away as New York arrived to help douse the fire, few of their hoses fit the hydrants.

While support for the calibration and measurements communities is still an important part of NIST’s activities, support for development of the underlying technologies is now at least as important. NIST carries out its mission in four cooperative programs:

  • NIST Laboratories conduct research that advances the nation’s technology infrastructure and is needed by U.S. industry to continually improve products and services;

  • Baldrige National Quality Program promotes performance excellence among U.S. manufacturers, service companies, educational institutions, and health care providers; conducts outreach programs and manages the annual Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award recognizing performance excellence and quality achievement;

  • Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) is a nationwide network of local centers offering technical and business assistance to smaller manufacturers; and

  • Technology Innovation Program (TIP) provides cost-shared awards to industry, universities, and consortia for research on potentially revolutionary technologies that address critical national and societal needs.

The bulk of NIST’s $673.6 million in appropriations for its four major programs goes to scientific and technical research (STRS program) in NIST Laboratories. Additional funds include $127.4 million from other agencies, $48.3 million in service fees, and $82.2 million in congressionally directed projects and construction grants.

A major feature of NIST’s activities involves cooperative programs with industry. Companies can join research consortia, cooperative research and development agreements, or sponsor guest researchers in NIST labs. Less formal collaborations between NIST researchers and their peers in industry, academia, and other government agencies are also common.

Author Information
C.G. Masi is a senior editor at Control Engineering. Contact him by email at charlie.masi@reedbusiness.com .