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Summary The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, carries out its mission of promoting U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by developing and applying technology, measurements, and standards across nationally and strategically important industries. NIST is uniquely positioned to contribute to the development of U.S. industry and to technology deployment, and thereby to U.S. economic growth. This report contains the assessment by the Panel on Electronics and Electrical Engineering of NIST’s Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory (EEEL), focusing on the scientific and technical work performed by the laboratory. The assessment is conducted biennially. The panel was constituted by the National Research Council (NRC) through methodical and thorough consideration of the key expertise needed to perform the assessment. The NRC is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. The panel was charged to examine the broad factors of technical merit of the laboratory’s programs, the adequacy of its facilities and resources, and its achievement of its desired impacts. The EEEL comprises four divisions—the Optoelectronics Division, the Semiconductor Electronics Division, the Quantum Electrical Metrology Division, and the Electromagnetics Division—and two operating offices: the Office of Law Enforcement Standards and the Office of Microelectronics Programs. The two offices were not subject to this formal assessment. In this report, the panel’s findings are delineated in several chapters. Included are division-by-division assessments and project-specific evaluations (Chapter 3), EEEL responses to concerns from the previous assessment (Chapter 4), general observations of the panel (Chapter 5), future thrusts or high-impact projects (Chapter 6), conclusions (Chapter 7), and recommendations (Chapter 8). The researchers and management of the EEEL have been highly effective in addressing the laboratory’s main objectives: anticipating future metrology and standards needs, enabling scientific and technology advances, and improving and refining existing measurement methods and services. Most of projects reviewed are excellent and are exerting pervasive impact. The research on a superconducting single-photon detector in the Optoelectronics Division, which is an enabling technology for a variety of applications in leading next-generation computing, such as optical quantum computing, is the best in its field. The Electronic Kilogram project of the Quantum Electrical Metrology Division offers the most precise measurement of Planck’s constant to date, integrating many of the standards developed in the EEEL. The development of phantoms and metrology for quantitative biomagnetic imaging is another standout, providing superior metrology for Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines in medical diagnostic applications. There is an overwhelming need for improvements in physical facilities in areas ranging from heating-cooling systems to the construction of new facilities. Certain valuable projects are severely underfunded and understaffed, jeopardizing the intended progress and the viability of the projects. The funding system warrants a thorough review. A review process for internal funding is needed that is based on technical merit rather than on economic need. For older projects that have been receiving internal funding and either have come to an end or found other funding, there should be a mechanism in place to ensure that the internal funding is reallocated. Interaction with other groups within NIST is becoming more difficult because there is less “flexible money” to incentivize collaboration. 1
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The concept of fully documenting specialized knowledge before a staff member retires should be facilitated. Further collaboration between activities in Boulder, Colorado, and Gaithersburg, Maryland, is encouraged where overlap exists. This report identifies high-impact and new thrust programs to augment the laboratory’s base for future growth. One such area is photovoltaics. Photovoltaics stands on its intrinsic merit of direct conversion from sun power to electricity. Solar energy is one of the critical renewable energy paths and will be in the necessary mix of future energy trajectories that must respond to the need for renewable and green energy sources. However, the exploration and use of solar energy have risen and sunk with oil prices; oil constitutes only a minuscule share of the U.S. electricity generation, and oil prices should not deter renewable energy deployment. For the United States, renewable and green energy is a must. Energy is a race involving technology and deployment in the global competitive landscape. Photovoltaic electricity is the story of the power play of atoms, photons, and the free path of electrons; no country can capture another country’s photons. The photovoltaics effort will also support the nation’s goal of implementing the Smart Grid system. The graphene-based quantum conductance standards, addressed in the Quantum Electrical Metrology Division, constitute another new thrust area that may provide solutions to today’s challenges in resistance metrology. The Semiconductor Electronics Division has proposed bioelectronics as a possible new focus to further innovative metrology. The recent advances in biotechnology hold great potential for targeted and preventive medicine that calls for sensitive, cost-effective, high-throughput tools. Bioelectronics is an important strategic priority area. Additionally, the proposed establishment of a center for nanoelectronics reliability in the Semiconductor Electronics Division will further the collaboration with industry and other agencies by providing the much-needed know-how and services in reliability metrology. Another strategically important program is that of addressing the Smart Grid system. Globally, countries including those in the European Union, Canada, and China have promulgated government policies to endorse smart grid initiatives. In the United States, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-140) assigns to NIST a coordinating role in the development of standards for the Smart Grid capabilities. Smart Grid received further support with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5), which set aside $11 billion for the creation of a smart grid. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is also looking at the growth in renewable, clean energy accommodated by the evolving Smart Grid system. A working system with the desired reliability, efficiency, and safety is expected to revolutionize the electricity supply, distribution, and consumption. It will also enable the embracing of green energy electricity, as well as environmentally friendly transportation―hybrid and electric vehicles―making the Smart Grid system a sustainable energy model. In the context of the intense global energy activities, the success of the integrated Smart Grid system represents an opportunity for the United States to demonstrate its technical and commercial leadership. By fully employing the wealth of collective expertise and experience in the EEEL, NIST is poised to take a leadership position among other agencies in developing and deploying the measurements to enable multi-front technologies and the standards that govern the deployment of smart grids. 2
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The NIST mission is important to the national priority agenda that highlights energy, the environment, and manufacturing. The EEEL, equipped with diverse professional skills and comprehensive technical expertise, has demonstrated significant accomplishments in crucial areas and is ready to support further national strategic programs. The EEEL holds enormous promise, essential to NIST’s mission and the national interest. 3