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1 The State of the Laboratories The Board on Assessment of NIST Programs continues to be impressed by the vital and unique function served by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Measurement and Stan- dards Laboratories (MSL) in the development and transition of new technologies supporting national interests and also by the level of quality with which they carry out this work. The laboratories establish and maintain highly accurate, dependable measurement standards that are fundamental to sustaining commercial infrastructures and to the process of scientific discovery. No other laboratory in the country has the mission or capabilities to provide the range of services supplied by NIST. In this first chapter, which constitutes Part I of the report, the Board presents its overall fiscal year (FY) 2003 assessment of the MSL, focusing on issues that affect the MSL as a whole. Chapters 2 through 8, which make up Part II, present analogous overview assessments for each of the component laboratories. The focus in those chapters is on observations, conclusions, recommendations, and discus- sions that should be of value to each laboratory's senior management. Part III consists of Chapters 9 through 15, which present detailed assessments of the technical programs within each of the laborato- ries. Part III is based on some 38 site visits during FY 2003 by most members of the National Research Council (NRC) panels involved in this assessment. The chapters in Part II represent the consensus views of the panels and Board and are based on the detailed observations contained in Part III. Each project reviewed was evaluated in the context of overall NIST objectives. The Board estimates that a significant portion of the projects of the MSL were evaluated in the current cycle of site visits. The Board believes that this is a sufficiently robust sample of MSL projects to support a high-quality independent peer review. QUALITY AND RELEVANCE Technical Merit and Quality of Laboratory Programs As has been the case consistently in recent years, the Board finds that the technical merit of the work performed in the NIST MSL generally ranges from very good to excellent. The Board bases this s
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6 AN ASSESSMENT OF THE NIST MEASUREMENT AND STANDARDS LABORATORIES: FY 2003 judgment on such factors as the level of technical skill and knowledge required by the problems addressed and the degree of excellence and creativity in the investigative approach. The Board believes that there is still some room for technical improvement, as there is in any research and development (R&D) organization, but the overall technical quality of the programs is not a concern. The Board identified a number of technical programs that stand out as exemplars of NIST's best work: · In the Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory (FEEL), NIST scientists are applying Josephson junction technology and knowledge of the fundamental constants of nature to develop an "electronic kilogram," which will use the precision of voltage metrology to replace the standard mass samples on which we currently rely. This electronic kilogram will ultimately provide a unit of mass that is more uniform and replicable. Another example of KEEL's ongoing work in precision metrology is its use of the quantum Hall effect to measure the ohm. In the area of innovative technology, KEEL has developed a promising method for using high-frequency (terahertz) imaging as a way of looking through paper or clothing. An impetus for this R&D is to develop the capability of searching noninvasively for weapons, a homeland security application. · The Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory (MEL) is delving generally into nanotechnology of importance to future manufacturing. For instance, MEL is pursuing an integrated dimensional and electrical metrology program that will lead to methods for the fabrication and characterization (dimen- sional and electrical) of nanoelectronic (below 50 rim in scale) quantum devices. In addition, MEL's ongoing work in the Microforce and the XCALIBIR (optical metrology) projects is now developing the impressive capability of measuring tens of nanonewtons (a nanonewton is a billionth of a newton). · The Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory (CSTL) has pursued research in microfluidics that is now leading to dramatic improvements in concentrating and separating ions in microfluidic streams. These developments open the path to new capabilities in microfluidics control and analysis, which could be a key element of new biomedical techniques. Significant updates to CSTL's Mass Spectral Database are also noteworthy. This database a long-standing technology that continues to Provide a hi~h-aualitv and reliable resource is a "must-have" technology for many chemical laborato- ries. · Some of the most striking accomplishments within the Physics Laboratory (PL) relate to its ongoing leadership in time and frequency technologies. For example, the extremely accurate time and frequency standards and measurements kept at NIST allow the calibration, synchronization, and interac- tion of various communications links. This capability is fundamental to the current revolution in the dissemination and use of information. The Board was impressed by the Web-based service of NIST that nrovideLs time and date LstamnLs. This kev service ills lured worldwide for a variety of Internet transactions ~ . ~ , . . . . . . . and syncnromzatlons; It IS accessed a ollllon times a clay, the nighest hit rate tor any Nl~ l wen page. A promising and innovative new technology development is the recent creation of optical clocks that are based on self-referencing frequency combs. When coupled to NIST's emerging "atom on demand" technology, this advance could enable a leap ahead to the next generation of high-precision clocks. · Among the many excellent programs of the Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory (MSEL), the advances in the lead-free solder program most impressed the Board. This program seeks to ameliorate a worldwide problem the detrimental environmental effects of lead in discarded circuit boards manufactured with current lead-solder technology. If MSEL is successful in creating and transitioning lead-free soldering technology for the manufacture of circuit boards, it could provide the United States with a significant competitive advantage while reducing an environmental risk at the source and diminishing the need for downstream solutions.
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THE STATE OF THE LABORATORIES 7 · The Building and Fire Research Laboratory (BFRL) continues to improve its Fire Dynamics Simulator. This excellent scientific and engineering tool, which is based on scientific models and verified through field experimentation, is available and used worldwide. It promises to be a significant factor in the prevention and control of fires. BFRL responded to homeland security needs in the area of bioterrorism concerns by applying expertise within its Building Environment Division to develop a model for the spread of contaminants through buildings. · One of the most impressive accomplishments this year by the Information Technology Labora- tory (ITL) was the release of the updated Handbook of Special Functions, known to generations of users by the names of its original (NIST employee) authors, Abramowitz and Stegun. In addition to updating this classic, ITL will make it available online with computational and graphical support, making it even more useful and user-friendly than its predecessor was. Another important example of ITL work is its ongoing leadership in biometrics, which provides the foundation for a range of trustworthy security and surveillance systems, both current and emerging. Program Relevance and Effectiveness The Board applauds the relevance and effectiveness of the work of NIST's Measurement and Standards Laboratories. It evaluated relevance and effectiveness according to two overlapping dimen- sions: (1) how well the programs have met current needs and appear to anticipate and to act flexibly in meeting future needs of U.S. industry and commerce and (2) how well the programs are aligned with the current "customer" base. Overall, the Board finds the programs of the MSL to be well aligned with NIST's larger goals and mission in support of U.S. commerce. The most striking evidence of NIST's flexibility in adapting to meet changing needs is its track record in quickly applying its base of expertise and experience to homeland security challenges that were unknown 2 years ago. This base of expertise and experience includes the following: · Expertise in the analysis of DNA fragments, which became a crucial technology for identifying victims of the World Trade Center disaster; · Capabilities for the evaluation of building structural weaknesses, which positioned NIST to undertake a major analysis of the causes of failure of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center; · Imaging technologies that could be readily adapted for noninvasive imaging of weapons; · Communications expertise that enabled NIST to begin addressing how to overcome equipment mismatches that plagued first-responders at the World Trade Center site; · Understanding of dosimetry of importance for treating mail that might carry bioterrorism agents; and · Expertise in flow models for ventilation, which allowed NIST to quickly develop a plan for decontaminating the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., after the anthrax attack of 2001. Although the Board cannot predict which current projects are prescient about future needs, it was impressed by an ITL project that uses statistical methods for the analysis of variations in metrology among worldwide standards of importance to trade. While not glamorous, such an analysis could have very wide-ranging significance for U.S. industry in a globalized market. The lead-free solder program mentioned above is another example of an activity that demonstrates foresight. Regarding the second dimension of relevance how well programs align with the needs of the currently identified customer base the Board notes the following positive practices:
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8 AN ASSESSMENT OF THE NIST MEASUREMENT AND STANDARDS LABORATORIES: FY 2003 · All of the major MSL units measure customer satisfaction. · It is common to find MSL units communicating proactively with customers through customer surveys, workshops and technical meetings, and involvement in standards bodies. · MSL units conduct economic impact analyses, where appropriate. The number of "hits" on some NIST Web sites is an impressive indicator that NIST is reaching its customers. Another customer-oriented innovation is the development in some units of guides to good practice as a new service that complements the traditional standards. The Board has one concern regarding relevance, which is that excellent customer relations can sometimes inhibit the pursuit of important new areas when an organization's overall resources are flat (as is the case with NIST). For instance, CSTL may have to phase out some of its analytical chemistry services in order to satisfy growing demands in the life sciences, and ITL may have to do less work of relevance to the FBI in order to serve other homeland security-related information technology needs. RESOURCES Facilities and Equipment Some of NIST's laboratory facilities and equipment are excellent. CSTL, for example, is well equipped to carry out its demanding work; the only major area for improvement identified by the assessment panel for CSTL was a need to update the electronics in some existing microprobes. Within MEL, the Manufacturing Metrology Division retains world-class capabilities and has state-of-the-art facilities for a number of metrology services. The XCALIBIR and Microforce projects are excellent examples of newly developed, world-class capabilities derived from technical projects. The Physics Laboratory's Time and Frequency Division has two new laboratories that provide excellent environ- mental controls, other parts of PL are slated for partial equipment upgrades, and the laboratory facilities of some groups within KEEL have seen improvements. Additionally, there have been commendable safety upgrades at the Boulder campus. The Board is pleased to hear that some funding has finally been slated to improve the Boulder buildings, a move that is long overdue. As noted in Chapters 9 and 12, serious problems exist that significantly threaten NIST's ability to conduct its work at Boulder, and the budget to correct these problems is not within NIST's control. For instance, the country's primary atomic clock is located in a building with a leaky roof, and some of KEEL' s work is threatened by serious electromagnetic interfer- ence from nearby areas. Some NIST units are experiencing space constraints that could ultimately inhibit their productivity and/or quality of work. For instance, KEEL still needs facility upgrades in Boulder, and some divisions are dispersed in different buildings, which limits their synergies. NIST's joint program with the Univer- sity of Colorado, JILA (formerly the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics), still suffers from insufficient laboratory space. Plans for the construction of a biological wet-lab at JILA have not been completed; such a laboratory would facilitate the development of important new work. Overall, the quality of some space on the Boulder campus is not consistent with the quality of the work being done there. As another example, BFRL could be positioned to do high-quality, high-impact work in structural fire testing, an important element of homeland security and an appropriate long-term programmatic growth area for BFRL and its customers but this work will require the construction of a state-of-the- art facility for the fire testing of structures under load, plus a commitment to sustain a structural fire research program over the long term.
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THE STATE OF THE LABORATORIES 9 NIST faces a significant challenge in moving into the Advanced Measurement Laboratory (AML) on the Gaithersburg, Maryland, campus because of budget shortfalls for moving and for facility opera- tions once the move is completed. The AML represents the state of the art in a facility for physical sciences research and metrology, with impressive specifications for temperature, humidity, vibration control, and power. As such, it presents a tremendous opportunity for future efforts at NIST. But it is not sensible, or in fact sometimes even possible, to have current equipment simply moved into the facility's new buildings without significant interruptions of calibration services or substantial risk to precision equipment. These challenges add to the normal complexity of moving, and they will require staff to undertake additional planning in order to avoid degradation of performance during FY 2004. Human Resources The human resources at NIST remain very strong and constitute an extremely valuable resource for the nation. According to an internal survey conducted during 2002, employee morale is generally high; this conclusion comports with impressions gleaned by the Board's panels during their site visits in 2003. The working environment at NIST encourages a high rate of employee retention. With respect to Herman resources NEST sho~lcl continue its attention to maintaining balance in the - -or - following areas: · Between regular and temporary employees, to ensure the continuance of key organizational knowledge; · Between service and research activities, to ensure faithfulness to NIST's standards mission while keeping NIST at the forefront of the research that will enable and support future standards activities (see the next section, "Balance of Service and Research"~; · Between administrative support staff and technical staff, to maximize technical productivity; and · Between professional staff and laboratory technicians, to allow the best and most cost-effective distribution of assignments. In addition, NIST should ensure that technical employees have access to mentors and training in order to develop staff members for technical leadership positions. NIST also should develop plans that anticipate the need to replace key technical skills as employees retire or move to other opportunities. BALANCE OF SERVICE AND RESEARCH The overriding mission of NIST is service to the nation through the development and dissemination of advanced methods and standards that serve industry, commerce, and other national needs. However, staying at the frontier (or pushing the frontier) of measurement science requires a sophisticated and aggressive research program. The balance between research and services within NIST' s MSL is gener- ally good. The challenge of striking and maintaining the best balance can be illustrated by the program of the Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory. Preparing for the next generation of manufacturing technology requires attention to intellectual challenges that call for deep thought and long gestation periods. At the same time, the U.S. manufacturing community is confronted by practical issues that require quick, workable solutions that are rapidly available. Facing such varied demands is exemplified in the work of MEL's Manufacturing Systems Integration Division (MISD). That division's main objective is to help manage the ever-increasing complexity of the manufacturing environment, in which every year new
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10 AN ASSESSMENT OF THE NIST MEASUREMENT AND STANDARDS LABORATORIES: FY 2003 systems make old ones obsolete, and technology performs new functions that may not previously have been considered part of the manufacturing enterprise. New technologies might stem from and/or incor- porate new computer languages, software, operating systems, hardware and software platforms, com- munications protocols, and so on. Overlying such technical factors are broader considerations: compe- tition is fierce and cost-consciousness is becoming more prevalent. To help manage these complexities, MSID is heavily engaged in work on interoperability issues- the issues related to how these various parts of the manufacturing enterprise work together, and how interoperation can be automated, since the complexity of the systems has moved beyond the capabilities of manual controls. Because the rapidity of change is also increasing, manufacturing engineers rely on MSID, which fills a niche in the manufacturing environment not addressed by programs at universities or other federal laboratories, or by vendors. The complexity of the issues calls for time lines and a depth of understanding akin to what would otherwise be addressed in academic research. However, the ultimate industrialization of new technologies must also be considered; they must be timely, reliable, and suitable for real-world use. A different aspect of service is seen when one NIST unit provides expertise to support the work of another for example, when ITL expertise contributes to the goals of MSID. Such internal consulting is one of the roles of ITL. Its knowledge base in information technology (IT) is an important resource for most other NIST laboratories, because most rely on advanced IT in some way for their instrumentation and technologies or for the dissemination of their results. Two of ITL's divisions consult internally and provide in-house training; other NIST divisions also provide occasional in-house training courses. NIST must ensure that such supporting activities are appropriately recognized and valued as true collabora- tions. Recent homeland security work at NIST illustrates another consideration in gauging the right balance between service and research: that is, the research directions at NIST today are what will position it to provide services to address future needs. Expertise developed over years of work created a foundation in DNA analysis, radiation dosimetry, structural analysis, fire research, communications technologies, and other areas that could be quickly retargeted to address particular questions of impor- tance to homeland security. By maintaining a broad research base, sometimes in areas that are neglected by other research institutions, NIST has the capability of responding rapidly to unforeseen national needs as they occur. HOMELAND SECURITY ACTIVITIES As a special focus in 2003, the Board investigated how NIST's intramural programs were being affected by the new emphasis on homeland security work. Overall, NIST has responded very well, and the redirection or expansion of some efforts into important homeland security work has been very positive. The demands of homeland security have illustrated the value to the nation of NIST's broad range of expertise. Existing capabilities have enabled every in-house laboratory at NIST to respond quickly and authoritatively to important homeland security needs. For example: · The Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory is developing technologies for non- invasive, in situ detection of weapons, lethal gases, and explosives. · The Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory has contributed to increasing the cybersecurity of industrial control systems. · The Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory has created tools for identifying individuals
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THE STATE OF THE LABORATORIES on the basis of fragments of DNA. an. . . . . . 11 · 'l'he Physics Laboratory Is Improving methods for sanitizing mail and inspecting cargo with high- energy X rays. · The Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory is investigating fundamentals of materials failure mechanisms associated with the collapse of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers. · The Building and Fire Research Laboratory has undertaken a major study to discover lessons to be learned from the Twin Towers' fires and collapse at the World Trade Center, and it is continuing relevant work to understand how fires spread within buildings and how contaminants disperse through ventilation systems. · The Information Technology Laboratory is studying how to improve communications among first-responder emergency teams that rely on various types of equipment, and it is also building on its earlier work on biometrics for security systems. There are many more opportunities for measurement and standards work to contribute in important ways to homeland security, and the Board encourages NIST to undertake more work related to this area, especially when it leverages and complements other important NIST activities. It recommends that NIST continue to focus, define, and coordinate NIST expertise in relevant areas and demonstrate NIST capabilities to the entire homeland security community. OTHER ISSUES The flat budgets that NIST has experienced in recent years are a fact of life for now, and they will necessitate difficult choices in the pursuit of technical advancement. In order to maintain overall techni- cal quality and productivity, NIST managers should continue to increase emphasis on systematic plan- ning and priority setting with the understanding that some popular and successful programs at the bottom of the priority list will have to be eliminated, so that those with higher priorities can prosper. The Board has noted some resistance to systematic planning; for instance, Chapter 5 notes that the Physics Laboratory has made little response to the calls in the Board's 2001 and 2002 reports for that laboratory to develop more useful planning guidance for decision making in technical programs. Most parts of the MSL have been stretched thin in recent years because of very lean budgets. Unless that trend is reversed or the MSL make strategic decisions to eliminate low-priority programs, the quality of the work will begin to suffer. Even in a time of flat budgets, the NIST Strategic Focus Areas (SFAs) and similar initiatives yet to be defined do offer opportunities for growth. NIST has had good success in moving into homeland security work, as noted above, and staff could be even more aggressive about bringing their capabilities to communities targeted by the SFAs. There is still work to be done to break down barriers to collaboration within NIST in order to make it easier to apply the best mix of expertise to technical problems. The Board saw many good examples of cross-laboratory collaborations at the bench level and concludes that the research staff is not con- strained by organizational barriers. However, the Board saw little evidence of collaboration at higher levels for example, joint programs or collaborative planning. Because the Board's charge calls for it to assess the relevance and effectiveness of NIST's technical intramural work and because relevance and effectiveness must be measured against NIST's mission and goals, the Board relies on receiving a clear picture of the organization's high-level objectives. The Board is gratified to see good progress across MSL units in specifying missions and goals. The overall
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2 AN ASSESSMENT OF THE NIST MEASUREMENT AND STANDARDS LABORATORIES: FY 2003 NIST strategic plan (the NIST 2010 plants gives useful guidance. In addition, the Strategic Focus Areas have been very effective at clarifying major directions and coordinating efforts in the NIST program. These strategic plans are now influencing programmatic decisions in a healthy way, and there seems to be a broad understanding throughout NIST of what is in the overall plan. Within some laboratories the Board sees useful operating plans that are based on the strategic plan; in other laboratories the operating plans are still emerging. The Board believes that insightful, internally generated operating plans are essential for making optimal technical management choices, especially during periods of flat budgets such as the present. The effectiveness and value of some NIST programs have increased greatly in recent years owing to the availability of results in digital form. The use of a Web site for providing time stamps, noted above, is a natural and invaluable extension of NIST's traditional dissemination of the official time by radio. Making compilations of information for example, the updated Handbook of Special Functions, the Guide to Available Mathematical Software, and the Mass Spectral Database available in digital form not only improves the ease of use of such compilations but also allows for the incorporation of addi- tional useful tools, such as computational and graphical support. Clearly, providing digitized informa- tion is a key way for the Measurement and Standards Laboratories to maximize their value to the nation. The amount of digitized information disseminated by NIST now necessitates general policies to ensure the efficient use of resources (human and other) and to maintain the traditional quality associated with NIST products and services. In 2004, the Board will examine how NIST is addressing this chal- lenge. 1U.S. Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Preeminent Performance The NIST2010 Strategic Plan, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Md., August 2002. Draft for public review and comment available online at .
Representative terms from entire chapter: