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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physics 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,5 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 laboratory was assessed by a separate panel of experts, and the findings of the individual panels are summarized in separate reports. This report summarizes the findings of the Panel on Physics. 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, since NIST has begun to receive increases in funding through the America COMPETES Act of 2007, which supports the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative, the Director of NIST requested that the assessment panels specifically examine and review the progress of all of the activities at the laboratories supported by funding under the America COMPETES Act of 2007 and that the panels comment on those activities in their reports. The framework for 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 18 volunteers whose technical expertise matched that of areas of work being performed by the Physics Laboratory staff. Each panel member was further assigned to one of six division review teams, with each member’s general field of expertise matching that of the work performed by staff in the relevant division. The six divisions are Atomic Physics, Electron and Optical Physics, Ionizing Radiation, Optical Technology, Quantum Physics, 5 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.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physics Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 and Time and Frequency. Selected members of the panel met for 1 day with the staff of the Time and Frequency Division and the Quantum Physics Division in Boulder, Colorado, on February 15, 2008. The remaining members of the panel separately visited the other laboratory divisions at Gaithersburg, Maryland, for 1 day on February 26, 2008. During both visits, the members of the panel, including the panel chair, attended presentations, tours, demonstrations, and interactive sessions with the laboratory staff. These sessions included interactive visits with the research and technical staff within their laboratories and research facilities. The entire panel assembled for a 2-day meeting at the NIST facilities in Gaithersburg on February 27-28, 2008. During that time they attended overview presentations by the Physics Laboratory management and participated in interactive sessions with the laboratory managers. The panel also met during this time 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, who were chosen because their backgrounds matched the technical areas within which the laboratory activities are conducted. The panel reviewed examples of the standards and measurements activities and the technological research selected by the panel in consultation with NIST and NRC administration. It was not possible to review all of the laboratory’s individual programs and projects exhaustively. The panel’s goal was to identify, assess, and report salient examples of accomplishments and opportunities for further improvement with respect to the technical merit of the laboratory work, its perceived impact with respect to achieving the laboratory’s own defined objectives, and specific elements of the laboratory’s resource infrastructure that are intended to support the technical work. These highlighted examples, along with data from scientific and technical literature and supplemental information provided by each division, are intended to provide the basis of an overall evaluation of each division and of the laboratory as a whole, while preserving useful comments and suggestions specific to projects. The assessment is currently scheduled to be repeated biennially. While the panel applied a largely qualitative rather than 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 Physics Laboratory 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 Physics Laboratory program or project should not be interpreted as a negative reflection on the omitted program or project. This report first summarized issues that apply broadly to several or all of the divisions or to the Physics Laboratory as a whole. Then, after this chapter on the charge to the panel and the assessment process, it presents observations specific to each Physics Laboratory division. Finally, it comments on the programs funded under the America COMPETES Act and provides overall conclusions.