Summary

The Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory (MSEL) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) works with industry, standards bodies, universities, and other government laboratories to improve the nation’s measurements and standards infrastructure for materials. Its work is aligned with 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 our quality of life.

At the end of fiscal year (FY) 2009, the MSEL consisted of 104 permanent technical staff, 34 National Research Council (NRC) postdoctoral researchers, 13 term appointees, 161.2 associates,1 and 21 administrative support staff, with total funding of $52.6 million. The MSEL is organized into four divisions: Ceramics, Materials Reliability, Metallurgy, and Polymers.

A panel of experts appointed by the NRC assessed the four divisions, attending interactive presentations, touring laboratories, and engaging in small-group discussions with postdoctoral researchers and early-career staff. As requested by the Director of NIST, the scope of the assessment included the following criteria: (1) the technical merit of the current laboratory programs relative to current state-of-the-art programs worldwide; (2) the adequacy of the laboratory’s budget, facilities, equipment, and human resources, as they affect the quality of the laboratory’s technical programs; and (3) the degree to which laboratory programs in measurement science, standards, and services achieve their stated objectives and desired impact.

TECHNICAL MERIT

On the basis of its assessment of the MSEL conducted in March 2010, the NRC’s Panel on Materials Science and Engineering concluded that, overall, with a few exceptions as noted in the report, for the selected portion of the MSEL programs reviewed, the projects are outstanding. They are clearly focused on the mission of the MSEL and have produced results that have garnered recognition through awards and frequent citations in the literature as well as from strong support by industry and the worldwide research community for standard reference materials (SRMs) and standard reference data.

FACILITIES, EQUIPMENT, AND HUMAN RESOURCES

The facilities and equipment of the MSEL are being upgraded within budget constraints. Notably, the new Hydrogen Test Facility is now operational, and the Precision Measurement Laboratory, which will provide some laboratory space to the Materials Reliability Division, will open this year. However, the building that houses most of the Materials Reliability Division laboratories is subject to flooding and has poor

1

NIST associates, comprising contractors and guest researchers, are reported in terms of work-years. Other staff numbers represent numbers of individuals.



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Summary The Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory (MSEL) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) works with industry, standards bodies, universities, and other government laboratories to improve the nation’s measurements and standards infrastructure for materials. Its work is aligned with 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 our quality of life. At the end of fiscal year (FY) 2009, the MSEL consisted of 104 permanent technical staff, 34 National Research Council (NRC) postdoctoral researchers, 13 term appointees, 161.2 associates,1 and 21 administrative support staff, with total funding of $52.6 million. The MSEL is organized into four divisions: Ceramics, Materials Reliability, Metallurgy, and Polymers. A panel of experts appointed by the NRC assessed the four divisions, attending interactive presentations, touring laboratories, and engaging in small-group discussions with postdoctoral researchers and early-career staff. As requested by the Director of NIST, the scope of the assessment included the following criteria: (1) the technical merit of the current laboratory programs relative to current state-of-the-art programs worldwide; (2) the adequacy of the laboratory’s budget, facilities, equipment, and human resources, as they affect the quality of the laboratory’s technical programs; and (3) the degree to which laboratory programs in measurement science, standards, and services achieve their stated objectives and desired impact. TECHNICAL MERIT On the basis of its assessment of the MSEL conducted in March 2010, the NRC’s Panel on Materials Science and Engineering concluded that, overall, with a few exceptions as noted in the report, for the selected portion of the MSEL programs reviewed, the projects are outstanding. They are clearly focused on the mission of the MSEL and have produced results that have garnered recognition through awards and frequent citations in the literature as well as from strong support by industry and the worldwide research community for standard reference materials (SRMs) and standard reference data. FACILITIES, EQUIPMENT, AND HUMAN RESOURCES The facilities and equipment of the MSEL are being upgraded within budget constraints. Notably, the new Hydrogen Test Facility is now operational, and the Precision Measurement Laboratory, which will provide some laboratory space to the Materials Reliability Division, will open this year. However, the building that houses most of the Materials Reliability Division laboratories is subject to flooding and has poor 1 NIST associates, comprising contractors and guest researchers, are reported in terms of work- years. Other staff numbers represent numbers of individuals. 1

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electrical power. Both issues reduce the productivity of the staff. Other MSEL facilities and laboratories are among the best in the world, and in several cases they are unique. Since 2008, the MSEL has hired several full-time staff to replace retirees and transferred staff. It increased the postdoctoral temporary staff through the highly competitive NRC-administered National Academies Research Associateship Program. The morale of the staff and leadership is high. The postdoctoral appointees and early- career staff interviewed by the panel during the current assessment are impressive. MEETING OBJECTIVES AND IMPACT The MSEL technical staff is highly productive as measured by its publication in refereed journals, output of products (such as SRMs and standard reference databases [SRDs]), awards, and strong demand by customers (U.S. industry) for advanced measurement services and standards. Staff and managers participate in and are elected by their peers to lead major technical societies, which validates the quality of the staff and enhances the reputation and stature of NIST. The relatively new SRMs for nanotechnology are popular with researchers worldwide, as are the Charpy test specimens and supporting analyses that have been a signature contribution of NIST for decades. The findings and recommendations of the panel are cited in the division chapters—Chapters 2 through 5—for each group, and at the division level for those issues that are common to several groups. Findings and recommendations that are at the MSEL level are summarized below. Chapter 1 describes the charge to the panel and the assessment process, and Chapter 6 contains the panel’s overall conclusions. POSTDOCTORAL PROGRAMS The MSEL has embraced the NRC-administered National Academies Research Associateship Program to attract outstanding researchers. Not only do these individuals do noteworthy research during their appointments, but they also provide a pool of talented individuals for consideration for permanent positions. Approximately 20 postdoctoral associates and recent hires from the Research Associateship Program who were interviewed evidenced impressive capabilities and enthusiasm; all but one of them wanted to have a full-time appointment to the MSEL (the one exception was targeting an academic appointment). Finding: Even though all of the interviewed postdoctoral researchers stated that they are favorably impressed by the MSEL, their individual experiences there vary widely, from being essentially technicians to being fully and quickly integrated into research programs. A few of the postdoctoral researchers interviewed commented on the uneven nature of the assignments (not always their own experience). In a few cases, the postdoctoral associates were encouraged to write research proposals with internal or external collaborators and developed skills that will be useful at NIST or elsewhere. Recommendation: The experience of the postdoctoral appointees should be enhanced through the establishment of clearly defined expectations for the staff and managers fortunate enough to have postdoctoral associates. The minimum requirements 2

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should include a meaningful role in an ongoing research program and strong encouragement to develop research proposals submitted to secure appointments or an alternate that would enhance the capabilities of the postdoctoral associates. An independent review process should be established to assess postdoctoral experiences as a basis for continuous improvement. PATENT POLICY AND IMPLEMENTATION Improving intellectual property management, notably, applying for more patents, could enhance MSEL’s mission to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competiveness. Finding: There are several examples of technology developed to advance measurement science and standards that could have significant commercial value, but there was little discernible interest in filing patent disclosures. The current MSEL and NIST leadership encourages staff to file disclosures; however, the history of little support for such efforts and the experience of senior staff that these efforts are not appreciated or rewarded tend to discourage action by senior new staff. Recommendation: The relatively recent decision to develop actively the intellectual property generated in MSEL and NIST should be vigorously pursued. The fundamentals of the process appear to be in place. Developing technology from a laboratory demonstration to commercial production requires significant investment, typically millions of dollars and several years. That level of investment requires patent protection and an exclusive license to a commercial entity. The processes to ensure fairness are somewhat cumbersome, but they should not be allowed to diminish the effectiveness of the MSEL in fulfilling its mission. WEB-BASED INFORMATION DISSEMINATION Improving the ability to disseminate information in the form of data and models would greatly improve the effectiveness and visibility of NIST. Finding: Some groups within the MSEL effectively use the World Wide Web to disseminate high-quality data and models; however, the MSEL has an opportunity to do much more. The use of this relatively new dissemination venue is non-uniform, and some groups appear to have no such tools. This opportunity was identified during the 2008 NRC review of the laboratory; however, only one new project was reported (Atomistic Potentials Repository, in the Metallurgy Division), and little additional progress was evident. In a recent National Materials Advisory Board report on Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME), NIST was identified as having an important role to play in the development of such dissemination mechanisms.2 2 National Research Council, Integrated Computational Materials Engineering: A Transformational Discipline for Improved Competitiveness and National Security. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2008, pp. 31-32, 125. 3

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Recommendation: The MSEL should develop a comprehensive approach to data and model dissemination and collaboration on the Web. As part of such an assessment, the MSEL should also follow the recommendations of the National Research Council’s 2008 Integrated Computational Materials Engineering report. Efforts in the Thermodynamics and Kinetics Group (Metallurgy Division) should be viewed as a role model for this activity. Some specific opportunities have been identified within the Metallurgy Division for disseminating high-strain-rate and sheet-forming mechanical behavior data and models. A comprehensive approach to this problem would provide industry and academic researchers with ready access to information developed at NIST. A comprehensive assessment should also consider the issues and opportunities for providing repositories for high-quality information developed by researchers external to NIST. PERFORMANCE METRICS Consistent metrics for assessing the productivity of staff would help ensure a high level of professionalism across the MSEL organization. Finding: Metrics of productivity are not always evident or uniformly articulated. Recommendation: MSEL management should evaluate the utility of uniform metrics for such things as publications (e.g., h factor analysis), external support, patents and disclosures, and other factors, and apply them to various subunits and compare the results to selected benchmark groups. 4