National Institute of Standards and Technology

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NIST is a non-regulatory federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce. 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.

NIST carries out its mission in four cooperative programs:

  • NIST Laboratories - Conducts 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, health care providers, and nonprofit organizations; conducts outreach programs and manages the annual Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award which recognizes performance excellence and quality achievement;
  • Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership - A nationwide network of local centers offering technical and business assistance to smaller manufacturers; and
  • Technology Innovation Program - Provides cost-shared awards to industry, universities, and consortia for research on potentially revolutionary technologies that address critical national and societal needs.


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[1].


Chartered by the U.S. Congress on March 3, 1901, the National Bureau of Standards was the first physical science research laboratory of the federal government, established at about the same time as the nation's first commercial laboratory.

The nation already had an office of weights and measures. The first efforts to provide accurate (albeit non-legal) standards of weights and measures were made in the 1830s by Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler, a Swiss engineer and metrologist who immigrated to the United States and became the first superintendent of weights and measures. But the office had few employees, and some people disliked the idea of the federal government imposing standards or anything else on industry.

NBS was originally part of the Treasury Department, then moved to the Department of Commerce and Labor, later split into two units. The Institute went with the Department of Commerce, where it remains today. Samuel W. Stratton, a professor of physics at the University of Chicago, became the first director, a post he held for 21 years.

Over the past century, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has had several different names. Founded as the National Bureau of Standards in 1901, it was renamed Bureau of Standards in 1903. In 1934, the word "national" was affixed again to its name. For more than 50 years it remained the National Bureau of Standards, or NBS. It became the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, in 1988[2].


NIST Laboratories, located in both Gaithersburg, Md., and Boulder, Colo., conduct research in a wide variety of physical and engineering sciences. The labs respond to industry needs for measurement methods, tools, data, and technology. NIST researchers collaborate with colleagues in industry, academic institutions, and other government agencies.

  • Building and Fire Research Laboratory - works to improve quality and productivity in U.S. construction. The lab also works to reduce human and economic loss due to fires, earthquakes, wind, and other hazards.
  • Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology - enables science and industry by providing essential measurement methods, instrumentation, and standards to support all phases of nanotechnology development, from discovery to production. The center consists of a Research Program and the Nanofab, a shared-use facility providing economical access to state-of-the-art nanofabrication and nanomeasurement tools.
  • Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory - conducts research in measurement science and develops the chemical, biochemical, and chemical engineering measurements, data, models, and reference standards that are required to enhance U.S. industrial competitiveness in the world market and to improve public health, safety, and environmental quality.
  • Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory - has as its mission to strengthen the U.S. economy and improve the quality of life by providing measurement science and technology and by advancing standards, primarily for the electronics and electrical industries. The Laboratory provides the fundamental basis for all electrical measurements in the United States. In addition, the Laboratory provides metrology support to other federal and local government agencies.
  • Information Technology Laboratory - conducts research and develops test methods and standards for emerging and rapidly-changing information technologies. ITL focuses on technologies to improve the usability, reliability and security of computers and computer networks for work and home.
  • Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory - develops measurement methods, standards and technologies to improve U.S. manufacturing capabilities. MEL researchers work with industry to achieve greater efficiency and productivity with improved measurements and standards, both dimensional and mechanical. MEL also maintains the basic units for measuring mass and length in the United States.
  • Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory - provides technical leadership for the nation's materials measurement and standards infrastructure. Expertise in ceramics, polymers, metallurgy, neutron characterization, and materials reliability is used to anticipate and respond to industry needs in areas such as microelectronics, automotive, and health care, as well as to provide standard reference materials and develop measurement methods.
  • NIST Center for Neutron Research - focuses on providing neutron measurement capabilities to the U.S. research community. A national center for research using thermal and cold neutrons, its instrumentation is available for use by all qualified applicants. Many of its instruments rely on intense beams of cold neutrons emanating from an advanced liquid hydrogen moderator.
  • Physics Laboratory - supports U.S. industry by providing measurement services and research for electronic, optical and radiation technology. Researchers develop new physical standards, measurement methods and data, and collaborate with industry to commercialize inventions and discoveries. Their work ranges from tests of fundamental physical theories to problem solving for industry and commerce.
  • Technology Services - provides a variety of products and services to U.S. industry and the public in collaboration with NIST laboratories, federal agencies, national measurement institutes, state and local governments, and the private sector. These products and services include support for NIST calibrations, Standard Reference Materials, Standard Reference Data, and Weights and Measures; coordination of documentary standards activities; training of foreign standards officials; laboratory accreditation; facilitating partnerships between NIST researchers and U.S. industry; and access to the NIST Research Library.


External Links

NIST Official Site

Building and Fire Research Laboratory

Applied Economics
Building Environment
Fire Research
Materials and Construction Research

Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology

Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory

Biochemical Science
Process Measurements
Surface and Microanalysis Science
Physical and Chemical Properties
Analytical Chemistry

Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory

Microelectronics Programs
Quantum Electrical Metrology Division
Law Enforcement Standards
Semiconductor Electronics

Information Technology Laboratory

Mathematical and Computational Sciences
Advanced Network Technologies
Computer Security
Information Access
Software and Systems
Statistical Engineering

Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory

Precision Engineering
Manufacturing Metrology
Intelligent Systems
Manufacturing Systems Integration
Fabrication Technology

Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory

Center for Theoretical and Computational Materials Science
Materials Reliability

NIST Center for Neutron Research

Physics Laboratory

Electron and Optical Physics
Atomic Physics
Optical Technology
Ionizing Radiation
Time and Frequency
Quantum Physics
Electronic Commerce in Scientific and Engineering Data

Technology Services

Standards Services
Technology Partnerships
Measurement Services
Information Services