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The State of the Laboratories

This volume is the product of a process of assessment that began in December 2000 and ended with the finalization of this report. The Board on Assessment of NIST Programs met twice in fiscal year 2001; the agendas of those meetings are reproduced in Appendix B. The meetings gave the Board an opportunity to receive briefings and have discussions with National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) managers and to deliberate and reach findings in executive sessions. In addition to information obtained from these meetings, this report is also based on the reports of the seven major panels and one ad hoc panel operating under the Board. Each panel met with the managers and staff of the NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories (MSL). Prior to those meetings, subgroups of the panels had spent 1 to 2 days reviewing in detail ongoing programs in their areas of expertise.

This chapter represents the Board’s judgments regarding the overall state of the NIST MSL. It offers findings that it hopes can be used to further increase the merit and impact of NIST MSL programs. Chapters 2 through 8 offer in-depth reviews of each of the seven laboratories of the MSL, with findings aimed at their specific programmatic areas. Chapter 9 provides a review of MSL programs in one technical area (microelectronics) that spans the NIST organizational structure. Appendixes C and D give information on NIST functions and organization, respectively. The acronyms and abbreviations used in this report are defined in Appendix E.

TECHNICAL MERIT OF LABORATORY PROGRAMS

Once again the Board and its panels found that the NIST MSL are maintaining the overall high level of technical quality for which their work is known. Some programs are outstanding, leading the world in new areas of science and technology, or responding to specific measurement-related roadblocks in important industrial processes, or both. Subsequent chapters of this report contain more detailed discussions of the technical merit of current programs, but several examples of outstanding projects are highlighted here.



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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 1 The State of the Laboratories This volume is the product of a process of assessment that began in December 2000 and ended with the finalization of this report. The Board on Assessment of NIST Programs met twice in fiscal year 2001; the agendas of those meetings are reproduced in Appendix B. The meetings gave the Board an opportunity to receive briefings and have discussions with National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) managers and to deliberate and reach findings in executive sessions. In addition to information obtained from these meetings, this report is also based on the reports of the seven major panels and one ad hoc panel operating under the Board. Each panel met with the managers and staff of the NIST Measurement and Standards Laboratories (MSL). Prior to those meetings, subgroups of the panels had spent 1 to 2 days reviewing in detail ongoing programs in their areas of expertise. This chapter represents the Board’s judgments regarding the overall state of the NIST MSL. It offers findings that it hopes can be used to further increase the merit and impact of NIST MSL programs. Chapters 2 through 8 offer in-depth reviews of each of the seven laboratories of the MSL, with findings aimed at their specific programmatic areas. Chapter 9 provides a review of MSL programs in one technical area (microelectronics) that spans the NIST organizational structure. Appendixes C and D give information on NIST functions and organization, respectively. The acronyms and abbreviations used in this report are defined in Appendix E. TECHNICAL MERIT OF LABORATORY PROGRAMS Once again the Board and its panels found that the NIST MSL are maintaining the overall high level of technical quality for which their work is known. Some programs are outstanding, leading the world in new areas of science and technology, or responding to specific measurement-related roadblocks in important industrial processes, or both. Subsequent chapters of this report contain more detailed discussions of the technical merit of current programs, but several examples of outstanding projects are highlighted here.

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 The Electronic Kilogram project aims to use a watt balance apparatus to define the unit of mass via fundamental electrical measurements. The goal is to provide an alternative to the artifactual kilogram standard, since observable differences exist between the artifactual kilograms maintained throughout the world. The project leverages a number of NIST’s established world-class capabilities to develop a new measurement method that has the potential to significantly advance the state of the art in realization of fundamental SI units. An ambitious effort to realize quantum computing is an example both of world-class technical excellence and goal-driven research. The effort utilizes NIST’s existing leadership in laser cooling and trapping of atomic and ionic species to drive toward creation of memory devices based on quantum effects. The team has already achieved a 4-qubit entangled state and has in place a clearly defined goal of reaching a 10-qubit state by 2005. While this is a highly speculative effort, the importance of quantum computing, should it ever be realized, to both U.S. commerce and defense requires that the United States be the leader in this area. NIST has in place a team uniquely qualified to pursue this research. NIST’s ability to perform high-accuracy ultraviolet (UV) index-of-refraction measurements has been used to help solve a key materials issue blocking the development of 157-nm optical lithography. Based on index-of-refraction measurements made by NIST, barium fluoride has been identified as a color-correcting second material that could be combined with calcium fluoride to produce the required material properties at the desired wavelength for 157-nm lenses. NIST staff also made excellent progress on extending calibration services for the excimer lasers used in high-resolution lithography to 157 nm. NIST is the only laboratory working on these deep-UV standards. Indeed, 157-nm services could have applications beyond simple measurement tasks. The technique being developed may enable a more homogenous laser beam, which would improve overall photolithography resolution. In the past year NIST has made substantial progress on a two-dimensional grid artifact Standard Reference Material (SRM), which should ultimately enable the most accurate, traceable feature placement standard for photomask lithography. A major success of the past year is the selection of the Rijndael algorithm as the draft Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). NIST announced this choice after an international competition in which the stability, security, and performance of a number of proposed algorithms were examined by cryptographers around the world. NIST effectively managed this process by testing candidates, hosting several international conferences, and providing a forum for public analysis of the options. NIST staff led what was widely perceived as an open and fair process. Computer security is a critical issue for government and industry, and NIST’s contribution provided the encryption user community with a strong, stable, generally accepted standard to meet current and future security needs. RELEVANCE AND EFFECTIVENESS OF LABORATORY PROGRAMS The Board and its panels again found that many NIST programs are targeted effectively at real technical needs of U.S. industry. Many of these impacts are not readily seen because of the infrastructural nature of NIST’s work. Several examples of higher profile impact are given here. In the fall of 1999, industry realized that conflicts existed between two standards for wireless devices operating in the 2.4-GHz band. NIST took an important leadership role in answering technical questions related to reconciling these standards. NIST performed modeling and developed tools to simulate the interference effects that may occur between devices designed to two different standards. Its

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 results demonstrated the critical interference problems that will arise in this situation, but they also pointed to various techniques that can improve the ability of these devices to share the wavelength band. By aggressively addressing this problem, NIST staff were able to brief IEEE standards bodies about their results and proposed solutions not much more than a year after the problem had been identified. Copper plating of semiconductor wiring has been in commercial use for about 4 years, but there has been little fundamental understanding of plating bath behavior owing to the use of proprietary plating baths with undisclosed compositions. To reach the smaller and smaller feature sizes and spacings called for in Semiconductor Industry Association roadmaps, U.S. industry must more accurately control the behavior of copper plating baths, which will in turn require meaningful measurements and standards for copper plating. NIST was able to contribute significant technical insight into bath behavior by developing and characterizing the first nonproprietary bath that yields electrodeposited features with superconformal fill to dimensions of 90 nm and aspect ratios of 6:1. This interlaboratory effort was accomplished in less than a year from the time the problem and approach were identified. Industry has long needed standards to calibrate arsenic ion implantation in silicon wafers. Without standards, measurements cannot be compared between different types of instruments, impeding the translation of manufacturing processes from development to the production facility, or from one implanter to another. NIST staff used instrumental neutron activation analysis methods to certify an SRM for dopant profiles in silicon with an expanded uncertainly to less than 1 percent. This standard should have a significant impact on the semiconductor industry. Over several years, the panels have seen the positive impact of improved strategic planning on program relevance and effectiveness in most of the individual MSL. These strategic plans include project selection criteria, which have generally been quite appropriate; they include such criteria as the fit to NIST’s mission, potential impact of results, and consideration of capability (skills and equipment). The panels have seen these criteria used effectively to make rational program decisions. For example, when the Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory (EEEL) was asked by SEMATECH to undertake studies of copper interconnect reliability (an issue different from that addressed in the plating study cited above), the laboratory determined not to do so based on the available skill mix (that is, the loss of a key skill when a staff expert retired). While noting that these studies would be of great importance to industry, the Board applauds NIST for using rational criteria to determine that it could not undertake the project, rather than ineffectively redirecting resources in an attempt to do so. MSEL redirected efforts applied to mechanical properties of ceramics when it became apparent that the main driver for that activity (development of ceramic engines) was no longer an industry priority. While the results of improved strategic planning can be seen, each of the laboratories needs to improve its articulation of program and laboratory goals and to work toward more complete and consistent application of project selection and exit criteria. The majority of individual projects in the MSL are aligned with an identified customer need. Individual researchers generally have good ties with peers in relevant industries and utilize these ties and other mechanisms such as workshops, conferences, and participation in standards activities to identify measurements and standards work relevant to their industrial customers. This grassroots approach to identifying customer needs is valuable and should never be lost. However, it needs to be coupled with a top-down approach that can provide the broader view of industry necessary for overall program prioritization. The Board observes the need for NIST to develop priorities, determine its customers, and seek customer input on an institution-wide basis. This effort can help focus programs and individual projects on areas of strategic importance and maximize the overall impact of MSL programs.

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 TABLE 1.1 Funding for the NIST MSL (in millions of dollars), FY 1997 Through FY 2000 Laboratory Fiscal Year 1998 (actual) Fiscal Year 1999 (actual) Fiscal Year 2000 (actual) Fiscal Year 2001 (estimated) Electronics and Electrical Engineering (EEEL) 49.0 50.7 52.7 55.4 Manufacturing Engineering (MEL) 42.2 40.8 41.5 40.9 Chemical Science and Technology (CSTL) 57.7 60.0 63.2 63.0 Physics (PL) 48.1 50.4 51.6 55.0 Materials Science and Engineering (MSEL) 39.7 38.3 38.1 38.0 NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) 17.2 16.8 18.5 18.4 Building and Fire Research (BFRL) 28.9 28.7 30.5 33.4 Information Technology (ITL) 70.2 70.3 75.8 88.2 Total 353.0 356.0 371.9 392.3 TABLE 1.2 NIST MSL Full-Time Permanent Staff, FY 1998 Through FY 2001 Laboratory Fiscal Year 1998 Fiscal Year 1999 Fiscal Year 2000 Fiscal Year 2001 Change 1998–2001 (%) EEEL 270 270 259 244 –9.6 MEL 254 239 232 211 –16.9 CSTL 280 276 275 264 –5.7 PL 207 204 200 205 –1.0 MSEL 209 199 178 163 –22.0 NCNR 84 85 85 92 9.5 BFRL 161 157 157 150 –6.8 ITL 362 381 381 368 1.7 Totala 1,827 1,811 1,767 1,697 –7.1% aThe number of full-time permanent staff is as of January of that fiscal year.

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 IMPACT OF RESOURCES ON TECHNICAL PROGRAMS The Board again notes that resources are seriously constrained relative to current MSL program objectives. Although every organization operates within limited resources, a certain minimum level of resources is necessary for a program or project to be effective. The Board believes that the MSL programs are approaching that critical mass in many instances, and in a few cases may have dropped below it. Tables 1.1 and 1.2 detail MSL funding and staffing over a 4-year period. The Board remains most concerned about the effect of resource constraints on staffing. While the budget numbers in Table 1.1 show increases, mandatory salary increases for staff have outstripped increases in the budget. A result is the situation depicted in Table 1.2, which indicates a 7 percent reduction in MSL permanent staff since 1998. Since many current projects in the MSL are already staffed by a single individual and certain skills are possessed by only one or two staff members (see, for example, pp. 22, 49, 68, 81, 95, 117, 134–135, 167, 182, 205, 212, 243, and 274), further loss of staff will inevitably mean erosion in current programs and capabilities. The Board is concerned that the current personnel situation will have reverberations for years to come—insufficient new, fresh talent is being brought in, and even if this situation were to reverse in a few years, key mentors for new hires are retiring now. The Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory presented data indicating that the loss of personnel in that laboratory had resulted in a staff profile with a low percentage of entry-level technical staff (see Figure 1.1). Although it did not receive similar analyses for the other laboratories, the Board believes this situation is not unique to MEL. Such a personnel trend bodes ill for the future of NIST, as no technical organization can remain at the cutting edge without continual refreshment of its skill base. Physical facilities also remain a concern. Some improvements have been made in the past year: For instance, CSTL researchers were moved from the completely inadequate Building 3 in Boulder to a better building, which had been vacated by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) personnel (see p. 117), and clean room facilities with microfabrication capabilities were completed for EEEL in Boulder (see p. 15). Excavation for the long-planned Advanced Measurements Laboratory is also under way, and Board members were never more pleased to see a hole in the ground. However, problems with air cleanliness and temperature and humidity control remain in the Gaithersburg facilities (see, for example, pp. 32, 118, and 224). The Boulder facilities continue to have serious deficiencies FIGURE 1.1 Staffing trends in the Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory. ZP grade series denotes technical professional staff. ZP3 is the grade typical for entry-level Ph.D.s. ZP5 is the highest technical professional grade.

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 that affect work efficiency and the ability to carry out certain measurements and that may degrade expensive equipment, if not pose a threat to personal safety (see pp. 37–38, 44, 56, and 118). Staff carry out their work in this environment of tight budgets, decreased staffing, and marginal facilities and equipment by dint of persistence, ingenuity, and a culture of making do. The Board is concerned about the opportunity cost of such measures. The panels witnessed numerous examples of outdated equipment that is patched up by staff to function adequately for projects (see, for example, pp. 31, 73, and 140). Not taken into account are the staff time lost in devising the patch, or the additional time usually required to achieve adequate measurement precision on such equipment. Panel members also routinely puzzle over lack of technician support for Ph.D.-level researchers. When queried, both bench-level staff and managers usually respond that they would rather spend salary budget on Ph.D.s than technicians. But technician-level support would provide the laboratories with additional Ph.D.-level staff time as it allows existing Ph.D.-level staff to spend a greater proportion of their time on Ph.D.-level tasks. In some cases, technicians can even provide better support than Ph.D.s. For example, semiconductor wafer fabrication is currently being performed by Ph.D.-level scientists. Not only is this technician-level work, but a technician dedicated primarily to wafer fabrication usually produces better wafers than the Ph.D. who produces wafers only occasionally. Sometimes, rather than make tough resource choices, managers try to “spread the peanut butter a little thinner” for everyone, which can result in its own sort of inefficiencies. For example, the Electronic Kilogram project, an example of outstanding technical merit and relevance to NIST’s mission, was inactive for several months due to lack of funds for liquid helium (see p. 23). While staff was deployed to other projects, the unique and costly apparatus sat idle—a situation that should have been avoided. In times of severely constrained resources, strategic planning is particularly important. An institute-wide strategic plan, the clear statement of NIST goals and objectives, would provide a context for determining in which areas staff could be reduced without compromising overall program goals and in which they could not. Such a plan could be used to defend a minimum staffing level necessary to achieve institute goals and to determine whether the institute has dropped below that level. It could also be used to determine an appropriate balance between technicians and Ph.D.-level staff and to determine which areas most critically need skills refreshed by hiring entry-level Ph.D.s. It could be used, as well, to prioritize upgrades of facilities and equipment, to determine which upgrades are required to meet the most critical goals, and to identify which goals will not be feasible given the state of facilities. PROGRESS TOWARD A NIST-WIDE STRATEGIC PLAN A NIST-wide strategic plan encompassing all the MSL would help ensure that maximum program impact is achieved for the given resources, and that the best allocation of resources and talent is obtained. This was noted in last year’s assessment, and the Board was pleased to be presented with NIST’s work to date on such a strategic plan at its May 2001 meeting. The planning exercise, dubbed “NIST 2010” by institute managers, seeks to envisage NIST over the next decade, establish long-term strategic goals, and implement a plan for achieving these goals. NIST management presented the Board with a time line that calls for reporting NIST-wide strategic choices to the NIST Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology for comment in December 2001 and first-stage implementation of the plan shortly thereafter. The Board was presented with a revised mission and vision statement for the institute (in draft form), and it was clear, from the discussion, that these statements reflected the deliberation and cooperation of the entire NIST management team. The Board applauds the success achieved thus far and encourages further progress, while noting that the most difficult steps—defining specific goals, developing plans to achieve those goals, and aligning programs with the plan—remain.

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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories: Fiscal Year 2001 The Board urges NIST to pay particular attention to planning its long-term strategy in international standards. If it wants to contribute to a comparative productivity advantage for the U.S. economy compared to other economies, NIST needs a long-term strategy that includes processes for deciding when to participate in such activities and when to lead them, along with measures and metrics for evaluating the success of NIST activities. International standards could mean either a large payoff or a large loss for the United States, and NIST has a unique role to play here. Separate from but related to the strategic planning effort, NIST managers discussed with the Board plans to institute a “mirror office”—an internal office with the task of seeking feedback on NIST programs from across the institution and from a broad spectrum of customers. Such a function could nicely complement existing grassroots contact with customers and allow NIST to serve its customers more effectively through increased dissemination and improved program prioritization based on customer input. NIST also informed the Board of its KnowledgeNet activity—an effort to provide Web-based data on NIST programs according to industrial sector served (e.g., automotive, biomedical, microelectronics) rather than according to NIST organizational unit. Such a database could improve external communication with customers and internal coordination of programs in interdisciplinary areas. The Board is pleased with and excited about these developments in NIST-wide management of information and strategic planning. It believes they will prove synergistic with the strategic planning and information gathering that already occur at the level of the individual laboratories. Progress to date on these NIST-wide efforts is positive, and the Board looks forward to reviewing further progress on these efforts in its 2002 assessment.

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