Chapter 1

The State of the Laboratories



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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY MEASUREMENT AND STANDARDS LABORATORIES Fiscal Year 1998 Chapter 1 The State of the Laboratories

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY MEASUREMENT AND STANDARDS LABORATORIES Fiscal Year 1998 This page in the original is blank.

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY MEASUREMENT AND STANDARDS LABORATORIES Fiscal Year 1998 MISSION The mission of the NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories is to promote the U.S. economy and public welfare by providing technical leadership for the nation's measurement and standards infrastructure and assuring the availability of essential reference data and measurement capabilities. Overall, over the past year, the laboratories' programs were effectively directed toward this mission. For example, the NIST Traceable Reference Materials Program, an ongoing effort in the Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory, makes commercially produced reference materials, with quantities and properties traceable to NIST Standard Reference Materials (SRMs), available to a broad spectrum of industries in greater quantity and at lower cost than previously. As another example, databases of atomic and molecular properties maintained by the Physics Laboratory are being used by researchers in the lighting industry to design new, more efficient lamps. The data allow these researchers to use modeling in place of a large amount of experimentation, reducing the product development cycle. The Information Technology Laboratory has been working with 10 industrial partners to develop minimum interoperability specifications for public-key infrastructure components. Public-key infrastructure services are essential for secure electronic commerce and communications. These are only some examples of how current projects in the NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories are responding to the mission. NIST staff must continue and even increase their activities to forecast industry's measurement needs. The Board on Assessment of NIST Programs commends the laboratories' forward-looking stance as they work to identify future needs of industry in measurement science. Where available, NIST makes effective use of “technology roadmaps” assembled by industrial groups. For example, programs in the Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory are guided by the metrology needs identified in the Semiconductor Industry Association's National Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, and the Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory is making use of Technology Vision 2020, a roadmap coordinated by several major organizations representing chemists, chemical engineers, and the chemical industry. However, not all industries have organized to produce such roadmaps to guide their development of future technologies. NIST activities to determine needs in these industries include workshops, conferences, and other customer outreach. The results of these efforts are used to effectively link NIST programs with customer needs and can also be used to prioritize programs in view of limited laboratory resources and to present a clearer picture of project fit within the overall mission of the laboratory. TECHNICAL MERIT OF PROGRAMS The laboratories' programs continue to attain the overall high level of quality and merit for which NIST is known in the technical community. Best-in-the-world calibration services and research that is at or defines the state of the art are characteristic of the ongoing programs. For example, in the Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory, researchers are at the forefront of understanding the basic physics underlying quantum electronic effects. This research has led to improved realization of basic standards such as the volt and to the

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY MEASUREMENT AND STANDARDS LABORATORIES Fiscal Year 1998 development of a variety of unique measurement techniques invaluable to the emerging superconductor industry. In the Information Technology Laboratory, the work of mathematical and computational science researchers is highly respected by the applied mathematics community and has led to well-received products such as a World Wide Web-based database of test problems for numerical linear algebra algorithms and computational tools for micromagnetic modeling of materials. Of course, the outstanding evidence of technical merit is the awarding of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics to NIST researcher Dr. William Phillips, who shared the prize with two other scientists for the development of laser cooling and trapping of atoms. This work has already led to improvements in time measurements and is the basis for the first realization of the Bose-Einstein condensate (also a NIST achievement), which promises as yet unknown technical applications and discoveries in the future. Detailed assessment of the technical merit and appropriateness of the laboratories' programs is found in the laboratory reports that make up the subsequent chapters of this volume. IMPACT OF PROGRAMS Assessment of Impact The laboratories continue to have a positive impact on their industrial customers and work closely with industry to provide measurements, measurement methods, and standards to underpin the technology infrastructure. A few specific examples of this impact are cited here; more can be found in subsequent chapters of this volume. A Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory project on solder jet printing for microelectronics applications has worked with a variety of companies through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) and through an industrial consortium. A major accomplishment of this work was the identification of impurities that caused clogging in solder jets. Adjustments made by the manufacturers in response to NIST measurements extended the useful life of the jets from 8 hours to 1 month and enabled the commercialization of newer, more robust jets by a private company. The NIST Building and Fire Research Laboratory worked closely with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to establish the Building Automation and Controls Network (BACnet) protocol. This national standard permits the building heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning control systems of different manufacturers to communicate with each other, improving building efficiency and enhancing occupant comfort and safety. BACnet has also become a standard in Europe and is increasing in worldwide use. In 1977, NIST (then the National Bureau of Standards) issued the Data Encryption Standard, which became the worldwide computer encryption standard for government and industry. There now is unanimous agreement in the information technology community that the world needs a new standard suitable for electronic commerce, banking, and secure communications. No organization or standards group stepped forward to provide one until the NIST Information Technology Laboratory took on this task. The new Advanced Encryption Standard will almost certainly become the next world standard. The openness and extensive

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY MEASUREMENT AND STANDARDS LABORATORIES Fiscal Year 1998 collaboration that NIST had with industry and academia in developing the standard should guarantee wide acceptance of this standard. The NIST Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory provides U.S. manufacturers with measurement and calibration services in a variety of areas. Length, acoustic, mass, and force measurement and calibration services constitute a significant service to industry and to the public. Traceability to NIST measurements allows manufacturers to ensure the acceptance of their products and processes both domestically and internationally and has a broad, if difficult to quantify, impact on U.S. manufacturing and trade. Measurement of Performance and Impact For short-term evaluation of ongoing programs, the NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories employ a variety of measures of the quality and quantity of such programs, including the number of papers published, citation rates for papers, professional awards, number of invited talks given by staff, number of participants in NIST-sponsored workshops, and other similar measures. These metrics primarily sample the acceptance and use of NIST results by the technical community in industry and universities and differ between laboratories and programs, as is appropriate. Some effort to identify and implement best practices in this area might make these measures more comprehensive and more consistent and increase their usefulness in program evaluations and prioritization. NIST managers are aware that such measures must be used cautiously so that staff are motivated by program goals and not the measures. For long-term evaluation of program impact, the NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories have been making increased use of economic impact studies. These studies, performed by economists internal and external to NIST, seek to estimate the benefit-to-cost ratio and societal rate of return on the investment made in NIST research. Although the effort to measure this impact is important, these studies have the potential to be misleading. Many panel members believed that at least several of these studies significantly underestimated the return on investment by failing to consider the many levels of impact beyond the most immediate customers of NIST's programs. The Board applauds NIST's determination to measure the long-term impact of its programs and believes economic impact studies can be an important and useful tool in demonstrating the value of NIST work and in projecting opportunities for high-payoff projects based on past experience. The Board hopes that NIST will devote effort to refining the methods for these economic studies to improve their scope and increase their usefulness. Dissemination of Program Results NIST staff do an excellent job of disseminating their results to their peers in the scientific and technical community in both industry and academia. Staff regularly publish papers in highly respected journals and give talks at important conferences and professional meetings. Workshops and conferences run by NIST are well attended, sometimes even oversubscribed. An increased emphasis on disseminating NIST products and results via the Internet is evident throughout the laboratories. This emphasis is appropriate and makes NIST work more readily available to a wider audience. Good examples of the use of the World Wide Web can be

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY MEASUREMENT AND STANDARDS LABORATORIES Fiscal Year 1998 found in every one of the NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories. Especially noteworthy is the Building and Fire Research Laboratory 's practice of making all publications available on CD-ROM and downloadable from the Web. The Board encourages other laboratories to adopt this practice. Web-based dissemination could be improved by further encouraging use of the centralized “Web-Master” service available to the laboratories. Such a centralized function could reduce duplication of effort across laboratories and divisions as they seek to maintain and upgrade their Web sites and could maintain a more consistent organization and level of minimum content across the various sites, making the sites more useful and user-friendly. Although staff members do a good job of reaching their own peers and are well-known in their communities, informal inquiries made by Board members among their colleagues indicate that the NIST name is not as well recognized as it should be. More people can identify the National Bureau of Standards, NIST's predecessor agency, than NIST. Given that the change from the National Bureau of Standards to NIST occurred approximately one decade ago, this indicates to the Board members that NIST can still do more to get its story out. More effectively communicating its contributions to the outside community would aid in the dissemination of NIST work and likely increase its impact. It would help the laboratories identify more of their customer base and help their customers identify them. It would help make promising young researchers more aware of the opportunities available at NIST, widening the pool of candidates from which NIST could recruit to fill positions. NIST has a great story to communicate—excellent technical programs carried out by a high-quality staff with a solid impact on the nation's economy. It would benefit from having that story more broadly heard. RESOURCES Facilities The facilities issues raised in the Board's 1997 report have not been addressed in most facilities. These issues include poor air cleanliness, poor temperature and humidity control, excessive building vibrations, and other problems that inhibit progress on making and developing precise and accurate measures on smaller and smaller scales. NIST has been able to make significant improvements in some facilities in the past year. Renovations have resulted in some excellent new laboratory space and clean-room facilities at both the Gaithersburg, Maryland, and Boulder, Colorado, campuses, and the Board is pleased to see NIST making some progress in the issue of facility needs. However, appropriate facilities are still unavailable for many vital programs. The need to devise ways to work around facility deficiencies contributes to excessive costs, program delays, and inappropriate use of personnel and, in some cases, lower staff morale. NIST has developed a Facilities Improvement Plan that, if funded and implemented, would alleviate the most pressing of these facilities concerns. The Board commends NIST for stepping up to the issue by developing this plan, but the 4-year schedule for its implementation, even if fully funded, implies a need for intermediate measures to address these problems.

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY MEASUREMENT AND STANDARDS LABORATORIES Fiscal Year 1998 Computing Facilities NIST has, overall, done a good job in balancing flexibility in the deployment of hardware and software with the commonality required for efficient, cost-effective, and timely support. Organizational structures are in place to suggest an accepted, standard set of programs and hardware to be supported for functions that are required across the laboratories. In view of the expense of duplicate support and the difficulties in attracting and retaining skilled information technology staff in a very active market for information technology skills, NIST might consider performing a rigorous evaluation of its needs for supporting older hardware and nonstandard software packages for basic functions, such as e-mail, spreadsheets, and word processing. Units that continue to use hardware and software that diverge from an accepted NIST norm without documented and approved need could be held responsible for the costs of supporting such systems and of maintaining their interoperability with the Institute's norm. The current multiplicity of systems in use is both an unnecessary strain on and poor utilization of information technology staff. Human Resources The Board finds that morale is generally excellent among the NIST staff, as reflected by the high personnel retention rate. Although NIST salaries are not always competitive with industry or academia, the staff shows excellent loyalty. Staff members often attribute this to the challenging nature of their work, the work environment, and supportive management. Exceptions to this general pattern are units that are in the midst of or have recently undergone reorganizations. In cases of reorganization, NIST managers need to pay particular attention to morale issues. Many laboratory programs have been hampered by limited staffing. The Board applauds the laboratories' use of retirees and longer-term temporary staff to address these limitations. Despite this effort, resource constraints have created numerous situations in which a NIST core competency is dependent on a single individual. Succession planning for management positions is a current challenge for the laboratories. Entry-level hiring is focused on technological skills and attracts individuals whose major interest is research rather than management. Salaries for managers are too low to attract middle managers from outside NIST. Efforts should be instituted to provide training opportunities in management skills in order to increase the understanding of and interest in this career track among the staff. The Board is pleased to see the stability and positive influence on programs generated from having a permanent head appointed to the organization. Mr. Kammer's leadership has already had a positive effect on the morale of the organization and is providing a challenge to staff to focus their efforts even more tightly on the basic mission of NIST in measurements and standards.

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