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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 The Charge to the Panel and the Assessment Process At the request of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Academies, through its National Research Council, has since 1959 annually assembled panels of experts from academia, industry, medicine, and other scientific and engineering environments to assess the quality and effectiveness of the NIST measurements and standards laboratories, of which there are now nine,3 as well as the adequacy of the laboratories’ resources. In 2008, NIST requested that five of its laboratories be assessed: the Building and Fire Research Laboratory, the Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory, the Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory, the NIST Center for Neutron Research, and the Physics Laboratory. Each of these was assessed by a separate panel of experts; the findings of the respective panels are summarized in separate reports. This report summarizes the findings of the Panel on Materials Science and Engineering. For the FY 2008 assessment, NIST requested that the panel consider the following criteria as part of its assessment: The technical merit of the current laboratory programs relative to the current state of the art worldwide; The adequacy of the laboratory facilities, equipment, and human resources, as they affect the quality of the laboratory technical programs; and The degree to which the laboratory programs in measurement science and standards achieve their stated objectives and desired impact. In addition, because NIST has begun to receive increases in funding through the President’s ACI and the America COMPETES Act of 2007, the Director of NIST also requested that the assessment panels specifically examine and review the progress of all of the FY 2007-funded initiatives relevant to their respective laboratories and comment on these program growth areas explicitly in their reports. The context of this technical assessment is the mission of NIST, which is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve the quality of life. The NIST laboratories conduct research to anticipate future metrology and standards needs, to enable new scientific and technological advances, and to improve and refine existing measurement methods and services. To accomplish the assessment, the NRC appointed a panel of 20 volunteers whose expertise matched that of the work performed by the MSEL staff. Each panel member was also assigned to one of four review teams whose members’ expertise matched that of the work performed by the staff in the four MSEL divisions being assessed: Ceramics, Materials Reliability, Metallurgy, and Polymers.4 The Materials Reliability Division review team held a 1-day meeting at the Materials Reliability Division facility in Boulder, Colorado, on March 13, 2008. The other three review teams individually visited their respective MSEL divisions at the NIST facilities in Gaithersburg, 3 The nine NIST laboratories are the Building and Fire Research Laboratory, the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, the Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory, the Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory, the Information Technology Laboratory, the Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory, the Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory, the NIST Center for Neutron Research, and the Physics Laboratory. 4 See http://www.msel.nist.gov/ for more information on MSEL programs. Accessed August 12, 2008.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 Maryland, on March 19, 2008. During their 1-day meetings they attended presentations, tours, demonstrations, and interactive sessions with the MSEL staff. Immediately following the division review team meetings, the entire panel assembled for a day-and-a-half meeting at the NIST facilities in Gaithersburg on March 20-21, 2008. During that time the panel attended interactive sessions with the laboratory managers, and also met in a closed session to deliberate its findings and to define the contents of this assessment report. The panel’s approach to the assessment relied on the experience, technical knowledge, and expertise of its members, whose backgrounds were carefully matched to the technical areas within which the MSEL activities are conducted. The panel reviewed selected examples of the standards and measurements activities and the technological research presented by the MSEL. It was not possible to review the MSEL programs and projects exhaustively. The examples reviewed by the panel were selected by the MSEL. The panel’s goal was to identify and report salient examples of accomplishments and opportunities for further improvement with respect to the following: the technical merit of the MSEL work, its impact with respect to achieving its own definition of its objectives, and specific elements of the MSEL’s resource infrastructure that are intended to support the technical work. These highlighted examples for each MSEL division are intended collectively to portray an overall impression of the laboratory, while preserving useful suggestions specific to projects and programs that the panel considered to be of special note within the set of those examined. The assessment is currently scheduled to be repeated biennially. While the panel applied a largely qualitative rather than a quantitative approach to the assessment, it is possible that future assessments will be informed by further consideration of various analytical methods that can be applied. The comments in this report are not intended to address each program within the MSEL exhaustively. Instead, this report identifies key issues and focuses on representative programs and projects relevant to those issues. Given the necessarily nonexhaustive nature of the review process, the omission of any particular MSEL program or project should not be interpreted as a negative reflection on the omitted program or project. The report’s Summary first highlighted issues that apply broadly to several or all of the divisions or to the laboratory as a whole. Then, after this chapter on the charge to and approach taken by the panel, individual chapters present observations specific to the respective laboratory divisions. Comments on the progress of the programs funded under the America COMPETES Act are followed by overall conclusions.