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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physics Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 Summary The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a nonregulatory agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce whose mission 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 institutional vision is to be the world’s leader in creating critical measurement solutions and promoting equitable standards, with core competencies in the areas of measurement science, rigorous traceability, and the development and use of standards. The NIST laboratories conduct research that advances the nation’s technology infrastructure and is needed by U.S. industry to improve products and services continually. The mission of the NIST Physics Laboratory is to support U.S. industry, government, and the scientific community by providing measurement services and research for electronic, optical, and radiation technology. In this respect, the laboratory provides the foundation for the metrology of optical and ionizing radiation, time and frequency, and fundamental quantum processes, historically major areas of standards and technology. The organizational structure of the Physics Laboratory for accomplishing its mission and goals includes six vertically integrated divisions: Atomic Physics Division, Electron and Optical Physics Division, Ionizing Radiation Division, Optical Technology Division, Quantum Physics Division, and Time and Frequency Division. The Physics Laboratory also includes an Office of Electronic Commerce in Scientific and Engineering Data to coordinate and facilitate the electronic dissemination of information on the Internet. In line with the vertical integration of the laboratory, each division is further divided into groups and projects, which are considered in more detail in the following individual chapters discussing each division. For the fiscal year (FY) 2010 assessment cycle, the National Research Council (NRC) panel assessing the NIST Physics Laboratory was asked by the NIST Director to focus its assessment on the following broad factors: The technical merit of the current laboratory programs relative to current state-of-the-art programs worldwide; The adequacy of the laboratory budget, facilities, equipment, and human resources, as they affect the quality of the laboratory’s technical programs; and The degree to which laboratory programs in measurement science, standards, and services achieve their stated objectives and desired impact.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physics Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 The agreed assessment procedure consisted of panel review teams performing individual site visits to their respective Physics Laboratory divisions, with the full panel reconvening to draft a comprehensive report for the Physics Laboratory. Members of the Panel on Physics visited the six divisions of the laboratory and reviewed a selected sample of their programs and projects, with the chair of the panel participating in all visits. The general observations of the panel relative to the assessment criteria requested by the NIST Director are presented in the following sections. GENERAL OBSERVATIONS RELATIVE TO THE ASSESSMENT CRITERIA The Technical Merit of the Current Laboratory Programs Relative to Current State-of-the-Art Programs Worldwide The Physics Laboratory has had two decades or more of outstanding research accomplishments because of a group of dedicated, exceptional scientists and technical staff responding to the needs of NIST, the nation, and the world, along with an administration that fostered a collegial and intellectual climate conducive to such productivity. During this same period, the laboratory has maintained its exceptional leadership role in metrology and standards, in part because of the dedication of its staff in these areas and because of the staff’s groundbreaking research. The technical merit of the laboratory’s programs is particularly noteworthy in view of the fact that the Physics Laboratory is a small facility in comparison with other research-oriented federal and national institutions, with its primary commitment being to commerce and industry. At the same time, changes within the laboratory in terms of scientific and administrative personnel, organization, and infrastructure have raised issues, detailed in the report, concerning planning and resources for the maintaining and fostering of this productive environment. The Adequacy of the Laboratory Budget, Facilities, Equipment, and Human Resources, As They Affect the Quality of the Laboratory’s Technical Programs Since the previous NRC assessment in 2008, the budget for the Physics Laboratory has generally been maintained or increased in most areas in absolute dollars. With the condition of the overall economy, this is most certainly to be lauded and represents an endorsement of the laboratory and its accomplishments. At the same time, increased costs and increased commitments such as budget line items or funding from external agencies for specific programs have resulted in serious funding decreases in major responsibilities, particularly in some areas or standards and services with reductions in key personnel and/or services. The laboratory and most divisions have updated or initiated long-term strategic plans as recommended by the panel in 2008, which helps delineate the needs, but it does not generate the financial resources. The laboratory has new facilities in the planning stage, under construction, or completed since the previous panel report in 2008, as well as acquisitions of major equipment in key areas, in many cases partly in response to the 2008 recommendations from the NRC assessment panel. There appears to be increased commitment to the
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physics Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 refurbishment of the existing facilities and maintenance, although there remain areas of concern for specific programs and groups as noted in the chapters on the individual divisions. There also remain major groups with facilities that negatively impact productivity, time lines, and quality. For example, despite recent renovations, the building housing the majority of the Ionizing Radiation Division remains a concern. There are also concerns about the buildings and facilities used by the Atomic Physics, Electron and Optical Physics, Quantum Physics, and Time and Frequency Divisions. In terms of human resources, the technical scientists and staff continue to represent the major strength of this laboratory, but budget and reallocation issues appear to be impacting retention, salaries, permanent appointments, and recruitment. For example, the percentage of permanent staff appears to have remained constant or to have decreased in most groups. While an influx of junior and senior scientists is good for training and the intellectual climate, many of the temporary appointments appear to be motivated by budgetary and bureaucratic considerations. The staff of the Radiation Interactions and Dosimetry Group of the Ionizing Radiation Division has decreased, and the ratio of permanent staff to temporary, contractor, and part-time personnel is relatively low in the Optical Technology Division and declining in the Time and Frequency Division. Care should be taken to ensure that important NIST capabilities are not left understaffed or that important NIST functions, such as the establishment and maintenance of standards and related services, are not adversely affected by an insufficient number of permanent staff. The NIST management also should assess the potential impact of any changes in laboratory organization on future staffing, if they have not already done so. The Degree to Which Laboratory Programs in Measurement Science, Standards, and Services Achieve Their Stated Objectives and Desired Impact The availability of more strategic planning has helped in the achievement of objectives, although some groups, such as the Electron and Optical Physics Division, would benefit from additional long-term planning for balancing core activities and allocating resources. The strategic planning could suggest appropriate paths to organize personnel among divisions in the Physics Laboratory so that the talented staff can work more closely and efficiently with their collaborators in other divisions. Similarly, additional strategic planning with greater consultation with its user community would benefit the Ionizing Radiation Division. In addition, it would be helpful for the Physics Laboratory to elucidate a comprehensive plan for organizing and staffing its expanded role in the biophysics area in order to optimize its effectiveness. New, improved, and/or more accurate services were apparent even in comparison with the panel’s visit to the Physics Laboratory in 2008. However, several service and standards areas, even those with the most public visibility and recognition such as time and frequency, suffered reduced funding and reduction in services. The Ionizing Radiation Division lost one position and reassigned two others at a time when medical and industrial services and calibrations are increasing within the laboratory and are a national issue before Congress. The assessments of individual divisions are summarized in the sections below and then detailed in Chapters 2 through 7. Chapter 1 provides a
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physics Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 description of the charge to the panel and the assessment process, and Chapter 8 provides the panel’s overall conclusions. ATOMIC PHYSICS DIVISION The goal of the Atomic Physics Division is to investigate and exploit quantum behavior and interactions of atomic matter and radiation. The major projects are Cold Atomic Matter, Nanoscale and Quantum Metrology, Quantum Behavior of Light and Matter, and Critically Evaluated Atomic Data. In terms of overall quality, the Atomic Physics Division is doing an extraordinarily effective job of fulfilling its charges, as laid out by the NIST Director. The Joint Quantum Institute (JQI)1 is a major success and a powerful addition to the research enterprise at NIST. The remarkable advances in quantum information, quantum measurement, and quantum control are potentially revolutionary for science, technology, and national security. Major accomplishments include the generation of a synthetic vector potential for cold atoms, the fabrication and metrology of novel magnetic tunnel junctions, the generation of entangled photons from distinct quantum dots, and the development of new databases for atomic spectra. This division is one for which the salary levels are becoming uncompetitive in comparison with those at academic research universities. ELECTRON AND OPTICAL PHYSICS DIVISION The mission of the Electron and Optical Physics Division is to improve measurement science and to develop the measurements and standards needed by emerging science-and-technology-intensive industries. It supports emerging electronic and optical technologies, particularly precision optical measurements in the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) radiation range, using the NIST Synchrotron Ultraviolet Radiation Facility (SURF III). The programs within the Electron and Optical Physics Division are technically sound and well aligned with many other programs at NIST and beyond. This should lead to a good coordination of effort across the Physics Laboratory in crosscutting research activities. The division’s largest program is the development of measurement capabilities for EUV optics, including EUV metrology and damage issues, the maintenance of national primary standards for radiometry in the EUV and adjoining spectral regions, and the operation of national user facilities for EUV science and applications. The division’s metrology program has played an important role in the calibrating of detectors on several satellites focused on monitoring solar weather. A recent result demonstrating that a popular EUV resist is twice as sensitive as previously thought is very important and underscores the value of the division’s careful and precise EUV metrology efforts. The division has arrangements with several companies focused on EUV source and optics 1 The Joint Quantum Institute is a partnership of the University of Maryland (UM), NIST, and the Laboratory for Physical Sciences of the National Security Agency for research in the area of quantum physics. It is located on the College Park campus of UM and is staffed by researchers from both NIST and UM.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physics Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 development, and its ability to test large, aspheric EUV reflection optics is unique and crucially important. A newer research thrust area supported within the division chief’s office is Coherent Matter-Wave and Quantum Information Processing Metrology focusing primarily in two areas. The first is nonlinear matter-light interactions in cold atoms, for sensors and atom interferometers; the second is a concentration in quantum communication. The group has demonstrated continuous one-time-pad encryption of a streaming video signal as well as one of the highest-speed quantum random number generation systems ever produced. Another significant achievement, which combines the division’s theoretical and experimental resources, is the detection of zitterbewegung in atoms. Analogous to the predicted but unobserved effect in electrons predicted by the Dirac theory of the free electron, this is a rapid oscillation in position caused by interference between atom and antimatter atom states. The diversity of activity in the division requires strong management and suggests development of a strategic plan to guide resource allocation and balance core activities. The EUV interferometric patterning apparatus is an important part of the EUV portfolio, and its completion should be pursued. The continued development of the SURF III EUV program will benefit from strong and focused intellectual leadership. IONIZING RADIATION DIVISION The goal of the Ionizing Radiation Division is to provide the foundation of ionizing radiation measurements for our nation through its mission to develop, maintain, and disseminate the national standards for ionizing radiation and radioactivity to meet national needs for health care, the environment, U.S. industry, and homeland security. The current programs in the Ionizing Radiation Division are well recognized and are judged to be state of the art. Examples of programs that demonstrate the leadership position of the laboratory both in developing new standards and in ensuring that current and new standards intercompare favorably with those of other nations include the following: the determination of exposure and absorbed dose standards for developing medical practices involving ionizing radiation, the development of low-level radiochemistry protocols for nuclear forensics and radiochronology, the development of experiments to measure basic physical properties of the neutron, the application of neutron radiography to next-generation energy production programs, and interlaboratory comparisons of values for specific measurements which have established that the NIST values are as good as or better than those of most other national and international laboratories. Major projects that support these programs include, in the medical area, imaging measurement standards for single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and positron emission tomography/x-ray computed tomography (PET/CT), maintenance of the national mammography standard, and prostate seed brachytherapy dosimetry and calibration of miniature x-ray sources used for brachytherapy. In the radiochemistry group, a major thrust is the development, production, and dissemination of standard reference materials needed for many applications in which small quantities of radioactive materials are produced or are used as part of a measurement system. In the neutron physics area, major projects include neutron phase contrast imaging, the production of a
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physics Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 polarized helium-3 system that provides a type of filter for the production of polarized neutrons, and the use of cold neutrons for imaging objects, such as fuel cells, in support of programs to develop alternate energy sources. All three division groups include programs of major importance to national security—these programs are the performance standards for radiation-detection devices used for the detection of nuclear explosives, and the development of national x-ray standards for security-screening systems. The budget, facilities, equipment, and human resources available to the Ionizing Radiation Division are below those necessary to sustain the present quality of work being achieved and what is needed from this group by both internal and outside customers. OPTICAL TECHNOLOGY DIVISION The mission of the Optical Technology Division is to develop and provide national measurement standards and services to advance optical technologies spanning the terahertz through the infrared (IR), visible, and ultraviolet spectral regions. The division’s main responsibility is to advance, maintain, and disseminate standards for the candela and kelvin base Système International (SI) units and related radiometric quantities. Its core competency in this area is evident through the execution of several high-profile projects, including the following: the Spectral Irradiance and Radiance Calibrations with Uniform Sources (SIRCUS) facility, Traveling SIRCUS, Primary Optical Watt Radiometer (POWR), and the Low-Background Infrared (LBIR) facility. Generally, this division appears to be in good health. Energetic, highly qualified, and productive leadership is executing a diverse program of applied research and calibration services. The facilities and equipment appear to be appropriate and well maintained. The division appears to be delivering on its stated mission as witnessed by its external sponsor base, which includes other U.S. government agencies, foreign national metrology organizations, and prestigious U.S. industry and academic institutions. Additionally, its leadership and participation in international standards organizations and conferences, its capture of a relatively large number of competed NRC postdoctoral researchers, the number and quality of workshops and short courses, and the overall publication record indicate the high caliber of delivered products, services, and research accomplishments. Although the mix between permanent staff and temporary and contract personnel appears suboptimal for long-term health and consistency in meeting strategic objectives, this issue is being addressed, and progress toward hiring additional permanent staff is being made. The existence of a vibrant and dynamic strategic planning process can be seen in the development of the division’s 2010 strategic plan. Accomplishments of this division include the continued delivery and refinement of core radiometric calibrations to external customers, including other government sponsors, as a sustainable accomplishment. The utilization of the Traveling SIRCUS calibration system to calibrate the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument is a recent major accomplishment. The development of the new Spectrally Tunable Lighting Facility to enable modern vision experiments using a bank of calibrated light-emitting diode (LED) sources is enabling a major advance in the understanding of lighting quality using energy-efficient LED sources.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physics Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 QUANTUM PHYSICS DIVISION The Quantum Physics Division, as an integral part of JILA2 and of NIST, strives to be at the forefront of research and measurement science in key areas related to the division’s historical strengths and developing new strategic areas: (1) cold atoms and molecules, (2) precision measurements, (3) ultrafast phenomena, (4) nanotechnology related to quantum physics, and (5) areas of biological physics that connect to the first four areas at the interface of metrology and biology. As a fully integrated part of JILA, the Quantum Physics Division operates not only to serve the NIST mission, but also to serve the broader mission of JILA. Further, because of the Quantum Physics Division connection with the University of Colorado (CU), it has an objective to help produce the next generation of scientists. The Quantum Physics Division is a premier laboratory that can favorably compete, in most of the fields of research that it pursues, with the best academic and federal research institutions in the world. Major accomplishments of this division include the following: (1) the world’s most precise neutral atom clock, (2) the first controlled quantum demonstration of a chemical reaction, (3) the measurement of nanomechanical motion with an imprecision below the standard quantum limit, (4) the first high-resolution IR spectra of a jet-cooled phenyl radical, (5) the use of three-pulse photon echo peak shift spectroscopy as a probe of flexibility and conformational heterogeneity in protein folding, (6) optical two-dimensional Fourier transform spectroscopy to explore coherent light-matter interactions in semiconductor quantum wells, (7) Bragg spectroscopy of a strongly interacting 85Rb Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), and (8) an extension of atomic-scale tip-sample control, previously restricted to cryogenic temperatures and ultrahigh vacuum, to a wide range of perturbative operating environments. Major projects include the following: (1) ultracold fermions and the development of ultraprecision clocks; (2) studies of dense cold polar molecules in the lowest energy state; (3) the measurement the electric dipole moment of the electron (if it exists!); (4) research on entangled atoms/spin-squeezed states; (5) the structure, interactions, and dynamics of molecules and molecular ions and quantum dots; (6) an optically stabilized atomic force microscope (AFM) as a force standard with sub-piconewton resolution; (7) high-resolution control of frequency combs to generate arbitrary optical waveforms; (8) the development of one of the world’s only laboratories integrating biochemistry, cell biology, ultrafast lasers, microfluidics technologies, and optical technologies; and (9) the development of ultrasensitive force and motion detectors with precision beyond the quantum zero point of motion (of an atom in a lattice). The accomplishments have been dramatically aided by the infrastructure of this division and by JILA scientists, and the students and postdoctoral researchers training at JILA obtain a unique educational advantage through their close interactions with expert instrument makers, electronics designers, and information technology (IT) staff. However, the state of Colorado is facing a severe budget shortfall. Likewise, the 2 JILA is a joint research institute of the University of Colorado (CU) and NIST that is engaged in research in the areas of the physical sciences. It is supported by both CU and NIST, and its administration is overseen by a chair who is selected every 2 years, alternating between individuals from CU and NIST.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physics Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2010 University of Colorado is facing a severe budget cut next fiscal year, after having made significant cuts in the past year. If this results in a significant reduction in CU funding to JILA, the research infrastructure (instrument shop, electronics shop, IT shop, administrative support) should be protected as much as possible, as this is a unique contributor to JILA’s excellence. TIME AND FREQUENCY DIVISION The Time and Frequency Division is responsible for the realization and dissemination of the SI unit of time in the United States. Also, the division provides a broad range of advanced measurement services, performs research and development (R&D) for the future generations of time and frequency standards, and in addition is a key U.S. resource advancing quantum information processing. The division represents the only organization in the world in which a complete range of time and frequency research and metrology tools can be combined for unique research and metrology. NIST provides an array of services to a very broad user community in the United States: the NIST Internet Time Service is used more than 3 billion times every day; NIST radio station WWVB is widely used to synchronize commercial timekeeping devices to NIST time; and the NIST Automated Computer Time Service helps industry meet Securities and Exchange Commission requirements to synchronize the time-stamping of hundreds of billions of dollars of electronic financial transactions to NIST time. The Time and Frequency Division operates the world’s most accurate primary frequency standard (NIST-F1), a timescale that is among the best in the world (NIST timescale), state-of-the-art femtosecond laser frequency comb systems to mediate the comparison across a factor-of-100,000 frequency range, the world’s narrowest linewidth laser for precision frequency measurement, and the unique logic clock. These sorts of assets and experiments lead to unique by-products, such as improvements by a factor of 10 in setting limits on the possible time variations in fundamental constants such as the fine structure constant, and the world’s most accurate tests of special and general relativity. There has been progress in improving the existing laboratory space, an issue raised by the panel that visited the division in 2008; as a result, improved operational efficiency has been achieved. At the same time, the ratio of permanent staff to associates has been declining, and the division productivity would be improved by increasing technical support personnel. Another area of concern is the declining and inadequate funding supplied to primary standards and the NIST timescale.