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Overview  

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a non-regulatory federal agency within the Department of Commerce, charged with advancing measurement science, standards and technology—for the private sector and government agencies, in everything from nutrition, to time and national security. The agency fuels US technological innovation and progress through research and development in four key areas of focus: biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology and advanced manufacturing.

 
NIST headquarters are in Gaithersburg, Maryland, with laboratories in Boulder, Colorado—the latter are best known for NIST-F1, one of the world's two most accurate atomic clocks, which serves as the source of the nation's official time.
 
History  

After leading scientists and industrialists lobbied for the concept of a national standards laboratory at the turn of the century - primarily to meet the needs of electrical instrument makers and manufacturers - the US Congress chartered NIST, which was known until 1998 as the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), in 1901. With a starting staff of 12, NBS was the federal government’s first physical science research laboratory. Originally located in the Treasury Department, the agency later moved to the Department of Commerce and Labor, and stayed with the Department of Commerce after it split from Labor.

 

The work of NBS/NIST was affected by - and exerted an influence on - national and international events, and the agency played an important role in early government testing, contributing to wartime and military technological developments. However, in1953 NBS defense programs were transferred to other laboratories in the Department of Defense, resulting in a loss of over one-third of the NBS staff and more than one-half of its budget - and leaving the agency devoted primarily to standards, civilian technology and science. (See Chemistry International article).
 
In over a hundred years of existence, NIST research has contributed to a wide variety of technological developments - such as image processing, DNA diagnostic “chips,” smoke detectors, atomic clocks, pollution control, etc. The agency became more involved with private-sector technological development, notably with the establishment of the Advanced Technology Program in 1988, aimed at forming a partnership with the private sector towards development of commercial technologies that would generate profit. The agency underwent a name change the same year, reflecting the increasing importance of “technology” in its mandate.
 
The agency has had two important university collaborations - the Joint Institute for Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA), created in 1962 by a memorandum of understanding between NBS and the University of Colorado, and the Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology (CARB) with the University of Maryland in 1984.
 
The agency has a detailed history page, including links to the following chapters:
 
 
Nobel Prize
Three NIST scientists have been awarded Nobel Prizes for their work in physics:

NIST/NBS and World War II

 

What it Does  

Organization
See the NIST Organizational chart for more information.
Within the Director’s Office, the Chief of Staff administers the agency’s policies and external relations, planning, and program evaluation activities through the following divisions: Congressional and Legislative Affairs, Program Office (including the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology), Strategic Planning and Economic Analysis, and Public and Business Affairs Office. The Office of the Chief of Staff also includes the Office of the NIST Counsel, Office of International and Academic Affairs, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Facilities Management Officer, and Chief Human Capital Officer

NIST Laboratories conduct research in a variety of physical and engineering sciences, responding to industry needs for measurement methods, tools, data, and technology.
 
Building and Fire Research Laboratory works to improve quality and productivity in U.S. construction, and reduce human and economic loss due to fires, earthquakes, wind, and other hazards. Divisions within the Building and Fire Research Laboratory include: Applied Economics, Fire Research, Materials and Construction Research, Building Environment, and Physical Structures and Systems Interagency Working Group.
  
Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology provides 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.
Atomic Rulers of the World (by Brian Alexander, Wired)
 
More on Nanotechnology
NIST Measures Out NRI Funding (by David Lammers, Semiconductor International)
 
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
 
Other NIST programs include: Baldrige National Quality Program - The Baldrige Award is given by the President of the U.S. to businesses, education, health care and nonprofit organizations that apply and are judged for excellence in seven areas: leadership; strategic planning; customer and market focus; measurement, analysis, and knowledge management; human resource focus; process management; and results.
 
Computer Security
A division of the agency’s Information Technology Laboratory, the Computer Security Division (CSD) was launched in response to the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA). The Computer Security Resource Center has four groups:
·        Security Technology: Works in cryptography, collaborates with federal and international agencies on interoperable security standards
·        Systems and Network Security: Security solutions for “critical information infrastructure,” research and development in areas such as smart card, wireless and mobile, and voice over Internet Protocol (IP) security, digital forensics, intrusion detection systems, vulnerability analysis, etc.
·        Security Management and Assistance: Major initiatives include: Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) Implementation Project: outreach initiatives and information security training, awareness and education, NIST Special Publications on security management topics, etc.
·        Security Testing and Metrics: IT product security testing and standards, cryptography, etc.
The National Vulnerability Database is managed by NIST but funded through the Department of Homeland Security.
 
Smart Cards
NIST manages the Personal Identity Verification Project, an effort stemming from a homeland security-related presidential directive, which aims at centralizing and upgrading the federal agency ID system. An existing piecemeal system is to be replaced with “smart cards” that will ostensibly prevent potential terrorists from breaching federal security by making counterfeit, tampering or stolen identity more difficult. The new-generation ID cards are the same dimensions of a standard credit card, but digitally store biometric data (e.g., facial photographs, fingerprints), and cryptographic keys and algorithms used for providing digital signatures and other encryption. The cards will be required for all federal employees, including military, as well as others who require access to federally controlled facilities and computer systems.
 
Interoperability has been an impediment to the widespread implementation of smart-card technology. Most cards from different vendors rely on specific software and readers. NIST’s Information Technology Lab is working with industry and government to resolve interoperability issues.
 
Electronic Voting
As individual states are left to determine their own voting procedures and whether to employ paper or electronic apparatus’, the debate continues over the security and reliability of electronic voting systems. NIST has been working on standardization research and development for electronic voting.
A Far-Fetched Fix for E-Voting Woes: Open Source (by Jack M. Germain, LinuxInsider)
 
Forensics

NIST “Standard Bullet” Fights Gang Violence

- Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a copper bullet designed to help end criminal sprees without once being fired. Crime laboratories can use NIST's “Standard Bullet” to optimize the settings of computerized optical imaging instruments used to match markings on fired bullets from a suspected weapon. (ScienceDaily)

 

Where Does the Money Go  

Grants

See the agency’s funding opportunities page for more information about grant programs, which are administered through various divisions and include: the Measurement, Science, and Engineering Research Grants Program, Precision Measurement Grants,Small Business Innovation Research Program,grants in Nanoelectronics, the Technology Innovation Program and the Advanced Technology Program.

Student Employment Programs

 

Controversies  

NIST and 9/11 Investigation
NIST conducted a 3-year building fire and safety investigation to study the factors contributing to the probable cause(s) of post-impact collapse of the WTC Towers (1 and 2, as well as Tower 47, which subsequently collapsed). NIST concluded the towers collapsed due to the impact of the plane crashes, which severed and damaged support columns, and dislodged fireproofing insulation, allowing the fires to weaken the floors and support columns until they buckled.
 
In the wake of 9/11, several conspiracy-theory books have been published, often addressing the issue of why the buildings collapsed—putting NIST and its investigation at the center of controversy. Many claim that NIST’s explanation for the rapid collapse is “physically impossible” without additional external forces. For example, the authors of 9/11 Revealed (by British authors Ian Henshall and Rowland Morgan, published in 2005), allege that the buildings were intentionally demolished—rigged with explosives. The U.S. government maintains that exhaustive investigations, including the one performed by NIST, have proven the official story and vehemently refutes any alternative hypotheses.
Blogs such as this one attempt to discredit the NIST report:
NIST also posted a fact sheet addressing alternative theories of the cause of fires and collapse.
Debunking the 9/11 Myths: Special Report (by The Editors, Popular Mechanics)
 
Electronic Lobbying
 
Electronic Voting
 
Cryptography
NIST-approved random numbers have raised concerns among industry experts who allege the existence of an in-built “back door” for the federal government.
 “Random numbers are critical for cryptography: for encryption keys, random authentication challenges, initialization vectors, nonces, key-agreement schemes, generating prime numbers and so on. Break the random-number generator, and most of the time you break the entire security system. Which is why you should worry about a new random-number standard that includes an algorithm that is slow, badly designed and just might contain a backdoor for the National Security Agency…”
Read more of Bruce Schneir’s essay, “The Strange Story of Dual_EC_DRBG.”
NIST goes public to keep federal secrets (by William Jackson, Government Computer News)
Also see the following on cryptography politics:
Background reading on federal cryptography: GAO Report on Communications Privacy
 
Funding/Politics/General

Atomic Rulers of the World

(by Brian Alexander, Wired)

 

Debate  
Suggested Reforms  
Congressional Oversight  
Former Directors  

Arati Prabhakar—appointed tenth director of NIST in 1993, was the first woman to earn a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology and the agency’s youngest director.

 

 

Comments  
Fred Cook - 9/5/2009 4:39:32 PM              
I was travelling through western Kansas and noticed that some of the counties that border Colorado are in the Mountain Time Zone, but, most of the counties that bordered Colorado were in the Central Time Zone. How is it determined which time zone an area is in when it is "on the line" between the two time zones? If it were strictly "latitudinal" there would be a straight line and no variance.

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Table of Contents

Founded: 1901
Annual Budget: $931.5 million (FY 2008)
Employees: About 2,800 scientists, engineers, technicians, and support and administrative personnel at two main locations in Gaithersburg, MD and Boulder, CO

National Institute of Standards and Technology
Gallagher, Patrick
Acting Director

Patrick M. Gallagher has spent virtually his entire career at the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is best known for setting America’s clock by providing the nation’s standard time service. Gallagher has been the de facto head of NIST since the last year of the Bush administration while serving as deputy director, but was officially sworn in as director on November 20, 2009.

 
Gallagher’s father, John, worked at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, and Pat was raised in Albuquerque. He graduated from Saint Pius High School and spent summers working on public health and sanitation projects in Ecuador, Honduras, and Mexico with the group Amigos de las Américas.
 
Gallagher earned his bachelor’s degree in 1985 at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, majoring in physics and philosophy. After teaching high school math and science for a year in St. Joseph, Missouri, he returned to university, earing a Ph.D in physics at the University of Pittsburgh in 1991.
 
He spent two years doing post-doctoral research at Boston University, and then joined NIST as an instrument scientist for the Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) at the NIST Gaithersburg campus in Maryland. The NCNR focuses on providing neutron measurement capabilities for researchers. Gallagher concentrated on research on neutron and X-ray instrumentation and soft condensed matter systems, such as liquids, polymers and gels.
 
Gallagher gradually worked his way up at NIST, serving as the agency’s representative at the National Science and Technology Council from 1999-2000. He also chaired the Interagency Working Group on neutron and light source facilities in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. In 2004, Gallagher became director of the NCNR.
 
In 2008, Commerce Secretary Carlos Guttierrez selected Gallagher to be deputy director of NIST. With the director’s position vacant, he ran the agency, overseeing a budget of $1.6 billion and a staff of 2,900 scientists, engineers, technicians, and administrative personnel.
 
Gallagher has been a member of numerous advisory, study and review committees including the Math and Physical Sciences Advisory Committee of the National Science Foundation; the Committee of Visitors for Basic Energy Science in the Department of Energy for the Division of Materials Science and Engineering and the Division of Scientific User Facilities; the Solid State Sciences Committee, the Neutrino Advisory Committee and the New Materials Growth and Synthesis Committee of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Research Council; the Neutron Sciences Advisory Board of Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and the Scientific Advisory Board of the Advanced Photon Source for Argonne National Laboratory.
 
Gallagher and his wife, Karen, have three sons.
 

Patrick D. Gallagher (WhoRunsGov)    

 
Turner, James
Previous Acting Director

Dr. James M. Turner became the agency’s Acting Director on September 3, 2007. A native of Washington, D.C., Turner received his B.A. and PhD in physics from Johns Hopkins and M.I.T., respectively. He taught for five years as an Associate Professor of Physics and Engineering at Morehouse College.

 
Turner has held several senior management positions at the Department of Energy, primarily concerned with laboratory oversight, nuclear safety and safeguarding nuclear weapons both in the U.S. and internationally. He has worked with foreign governments and international agencies to build their response capabilities to nuclear emergencies. Prior to joining NIST in April 2007, Turner served as the Assistant Deputy Administrator for Nuclear Risk Reduction in the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, where he was responsible for major projects concerning Russia’s permanent shutdown of its last three weapons-grade plutonium-production reactors.
 
Turner is a member of the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society, the American Nuclear Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, ASTM, the Council on Foreign Relations, IEEE, Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and the World Affairs Council. He is also on the Election Assistance Committee (EAC)’s Technical Guidelines and Development Committee.

 


 
 
 
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