Chapter 1

The State of the Laboratories



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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS: Fiscal Year 1997 Chapter 1 The State of the Laboratories

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS: Fiscal Year 1997 This page in the original is blank.

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS: Fiscal Year 1997 The Board on Assessment of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Programs and its constituent panels were asked by the director of NIST to focus on certain topics in the fiscal year 1997 assessment: The technical merit of the programs relative to those of other institutions worldwide; The appropriateness of each laboratory's programs relative to NIST's mission to promote U.S. economic growth by working with industry; The effectiveness with which these programs are carried out and the results disseminated; The adequacy of each laboratory's planning process; The adequacy of each laboratory's human resources and physical facilities; The appropriateness of the other-agency funding of each laboratory 's programs, both in level of funding and types of activities; The industrial impact of each laboratory's programs and NIST's assessment of this impact; and The integration of each laboratory's mission into NIST's mission as a whole. In addition, when the Board met on January 10, 1997, the acting NIST director asked that particular attention be paid to assessing the adequacy of the NIST physical plant and the specific effects of its condition, if any, on the scientific programs. The Board's report (presented in this chapter) addresses the technical quality and appropriateness of the NIST laboratories as a whole. It is organized into four sections: Merit of Programs, Impact of Programs, Resources, and Planning. More detailed assessments of programs in individual laboratories are found in chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4, chapter 5, chapter 6, chapter 7 through chapter 8. MERIT OF PROGRAMS In assessing the merit of NIST's programs, the Board considered the inherent technical merit of each program, its merit relative to other institutions worldwide, and its concordance with NIST's mission. The overall technical merit as assessed by the panel members was excellent; much of NIST's work is world class, and many of its research groups represent national resources. Each of the seven laboratories of NIST has a number of technical achievements that distinguish its contributions to the worldwide technical community. NIST's primary mission is to promote U.S. economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements, and standards.1 In general, the activities of the laboratories are in keeping with NIST's mission as a national standards institute and with each laboratory 's missions. The laboratories have established their focus as the development of new metrology expertise in anticipation of emerging technology needs; this focus is appropriate and laudable. Projects are progressing toward their objectives and generating measurable results. 1   U.S. Department of Commerce, Technology Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Guide to NIST, NIST Special Publication 858, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Md., 1996, p. 4.

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS: Fiscal Year 1997 Most projects address problems that industry sees as high priority, although opportunities for improvement exist. (For example, a few members of the NIST staff could improve their effectiveness by becoming more aware of research being conducted outside NIST.) The broad range of science and scientific advancements achieved by the NIST staff is well documented. The recognition of their accomplishments NIST staff receive from their peers is demonstrated by the numerous scientific awards staff members have received, journal editorships and professional committee leadership positions they have held, and the thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles they have written. The usefulness of NIST programs is certified by high attendance at NIST-sponsored meetings and workshops and frequent downloading of information from NIST Web sites. Subsequent chapters discuss in detail the caliber of the scientific work of each laboratory. The following recent examples illustrate the many excellent technical achievements of NIST: In 1995 NIST made the world's first observation of a Bose-Einstein condensate, a state of matter that Einstein had predicted more than 50 years ago and that several other laboratories were also pursuing. This confirmation of theory was a major event in quantum physics, and this phenomenon holds the promise of improving of time and frequency standards that support many industrial applications, such as communications and navigation. Reminiscent of the early days of the laser, the ultimate uses of the Bose-Einstein condensate remain to be discovered and exploited. The development of the world's first single-crystal linewidth structure for reference material applications is a significant technical breakthrough in the accurate measurement of microelectronic structures. This work is important to gate-length and overlay metrology measurements in semiconductor manufacturing and has both technical and economic importance. Work at NIST led to the development of Standard Reference Materials (SRMs) for optical fibers. SRMs such as those for fiber coating diameter, fiber cladding diameter, pin gauge standards for ferrules, ferrule geometry, polarization mode dispersion, and chromatic dispersion are critical tools to facilitate the ongoing expansion of the fiber optics industry. Investigations have shown that in fires, more people are killed by carbon monoxide (CO) than any other cause, even at great distances from the fire. NIST researchers have precisely identified the mechanism for CO production, showing that huge CO volumes are produced and ejected from the fire front at flashover with certain types of common building materials. A software measurement tool developed by NIST, S-Check, marries NIST 's statistical and software expertise to enable more efficient use of parallel computers. This tool won a 1997 R&D100 Award. The NIST Research Reactor, with its associated instrumentation and scientific and technical staff, is an outstanding and unique resource for physics and materials science research communities in the United States and overseas. It was successfully restarted in 1996, after a

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS: Fiscal Year 1997 planned shutdown to increase capacity and upgrade components. It is the only U.S. research reactor currently operating with a cold neutron source, and its new reflectometer is one of the best instruments of its kind. The impeccable management of this facility is reflected in its operation for 100 percent of scheduled time since restart. Its importance is demonstrated by the continuing use by and funding from a variety of U.S. industrial firms. Understanding energy transfer and kinetic processes at surfaces is important in evaluating basic material interactions for advanced material and semiconductor technology development. NIST experiments using extremely short-pulse (femtosecond) lasers on the absorption of small atoms on metals test the theoretical models of surface interactions that have challenged the scientific community for many years. The quality of NIST programs continues to be recognized by the scientific community at large as a national technical asset. The Board finds the merit of NIST programs—technical merit, merit relative to those of other institutions, and alignment of programs with overall mission —to be excellent. IMPACT OF PROGRAMS Although NIST has improved U.S. competitiveness throughout its history, recent changes in planning, project selection, and project tracking have significantly improved the ability of staff to have a positive impact on the U.S. economy. Programs are generally selected within the laboratories for the magnitude and immediacy of industrial need, their match to the NIST mission, the nature and size of the anticipated impact, NIST's ability to respond in a timely fashion with high-quality output, and the opportunities presented by recent advances in science and technology. The need for a project is often established through workshops and meetings with representatives of industry, industrial consortiums, and industry trade organizations, both separately and collectively. This process ensures that the needs of industry are truly represented. Although this process helps assure the potential for economic impact of programs, successful impact depends on the ability of the NIST scientists, engineers, and management to execute the work in an efficient and timely manner in cooperation with anticipated customers. NIST management has been generally effective and creative in executing programs. Managers engage the people with the best skills for the task, increasingly crossing organizational boundaries within NIST, and between NIST and other laboratories. Since industry's needs are often in areas that cross disciplinary boundaries, this increasingly cross-functional approach is laudatory. NIST staff often work with the customer's technical staff through joint planning and sharing of facilities. As in any organization, there is always a need to improve dissemination. At NIST, this is particularly the case in the Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory, where the impact of good, appropriate programs will hinge on broad customer involvement early on. Tracking of customer interactions and feedback varies in level of effort and quality between the laboratories. Such information can help to target NIST efforts to achieve maximum leverage from program resources.

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS: Fiscal Year 1997 NIST is increasingly using tools such as the World Wide Web to develop and transfer new technology in the form of standards, processes, and products to U.S. industry. NIST is providing data on line to the chemical industries and to university and government researchers through its chemistry WebBook. In the first month following release, 8,000 hosts accessed the WebBook and downloaded more than 200,000 pages of information. NIST's use of the World Wide Web to disseminate information such as the NIST/SEMATECH Engineering Statistics Handbook (an updated, electronic version of the NIST best-seller NBS Handbook 91: Experimental Statistics, by Mary Natrella [1963]) and statistical reference datasets has made its products more readily available and will almost surely heighten their impact. NIST also provides time synchronization to several milliseconds on the Internet, a service that is accessed more than 2 million times per day. Although Web dissemination increases the distribution of NIST results, the NIST Web presence could be improved and made more usable. The most effective Web sites have a more transparent organization than the NIST site, with more efficient data search capabilities. With improvements such as these, NIST should be able to serve as the model for data dissemination via the Internet. When posting data, however, it is important to distinguish between NIST evaluated data and other unevaluated data posted or linked to on the NIST site for the convenience of the user. This information is currently ambiguous on some NIST pages. The results to date of economic studies to determine the impact of NIST programs demonstrate significant financial value and provide information that could improve the program-selection process. As more studies are completed and experience with appropriate analysis methods is gained, the costs of such studies should drop. Lower cost and validated methodology will encourage wider use of this tool for evaluation of economic worth. Several panels noted that an important way for NIST to affect U.S. competitiveness is through leadership in international standards activities. NIST participation in these activities is widespread, but in some critical areas where no coherent U.S. industrial voice exists, NIST leadership is lacking. NIST has the reputation for objectivity necessary to convene affected parties to develop a coherent U.S. strategy and represent that viewpoint in standards bodies. Without adequate representation within these organizations, U.S. industry risks being hindered in certain markets by unfavorable international standards. The following are some examples of programs with successful impact that have recently reached maturity: Development of new primary standards to calibrate gas flow meters, and the capability to measure flow proficiently, enable manufacturers to control gas flow with much greater precision. This is significant to several industries, although the NIST program was targeted primarily to the needs of semiconductor manufacturers. Testing strategies for high-dimensional empirical linear prediction have the potential for a significant impact on the instrument manufacturing industry by providing algorithms for modeling transfer functions in instruments such as data converters and root-mean-square-to-DC converters. Based on an analysis of the structure of the instrument, a small subset of the instrument's inputs can be applied and the results for all other inputs extrapolated.

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS: Fiscal Year 1997 NIST scientists have developed a prototype browser for an electronic component dictionary that should prove highly useful as more and more industries shift to on-line data resources. NIST collaborated with the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health and the University of Wisconsin to develop a national reference standard for mammography. The Office of Applied Economics (OAE) provides NIST scientists with economic products and services necessary to evaluate the life-cycle quality and socioeconomic impact of their products. Its application of standardized economic evaluation methods to the benefits and costs of research is being used by the American Society for Testing and Materials to develop a standard classification of research benefits and costs, as well as a standard format for summarizing the economic impact of research investments. NIST has developed controller components with open software architecture to address the complexities of configuring computer-controlled machines on the manufacturing floor. An open architecture controller based on a modern object-oriented architecture has been put into practice and demonstrated at the General Motors Powertrain Division, and transitioned to Hewlett-Packard for commercialization. NIST phase-diagram modeling software is used to predict solidification paths for industrial alloys with 10 or more components. This information is used to determine the soundness of single-crystal turbine blade castings, reducing process development time and cutting the cost of the finished product. NIST's work in plasma-deposited coatings is a small effort but serves as a nucleus for industry and university scientists to share information. This process is key to advanced aircraft engine and gas turbine manufacturers, because methods for the accurate prediction and measurement of these microstructures can greatly improve engine performance. NIST has developed software packages that allow architects and engineers to factor sustainable development criteria into the designs of indoor air-handling systems. These designs have demonstrated a 37 percent reduction in energy use in buildings and have greatly improved air quality. Further impact on worker productivity is anticipated through reduction in illness and absenteeism. NIST has developed the technical databases leading to selection of the chemical HFC-125 to replace current halon aircraft fire suppressants as required by the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer. This new material is in use on the recently introduced Boeing 777 aircraft and will gradually replace halons in older aircraft. NIST has produced highly visible and important test standards for seismic base isolation systems and pioneering work on welded beam connections for improved seismic performance of buildings.

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS: Fiscal Year 1997 NIST's speech and text corpora, distributed on CD-ROM, are widely used by industry in developing speech and natural language processing tools. NIST's role as an unbiased assessor of interoperability of various parallel processing implementations makes cooperation among different computer systems simpler for single tasks. RESOURCES The Board considered the adequacy of NIST's resources, including facilities, equipment, and personnel, based on site reviews and panel reports. In general, the 1997 assessments found that funding was adequate for the current level of operation and staff, although there are more opportunities to contribute to U.S. industry than NIST can now address. Furthermore, despite problems with many of the physical facilities and equipment available to the laboratories in both Gaithersburg and Boulder, NIST's work was found to have continued at an acceptable level. However, concerns were raised that failure to address critical resource problems would limit NIST's ability to fulfill its mission in the future. Facilities The inadequate and deteriorated state of the physical facilities was the overriding resource shortcoming cited in the panels' assessments of the laboratories. These shortcomings compromise safety as well as capabilities to meet the laboratory mission and sometimes result in equipment damage, lost time, and low morale. NIST's 1992 Capital Improvement Facilities Program Plan, which called for $540 million in capital improvements to modernize NIST's aging facilities, has been abandoned for lack of funding. Revised plans to address these facility issues are pending, subject to available funding. The most urgent needs include the following: The Building and Fire Research Laboratory's large-scale fire test facility (Building 205) and the environmental chambers. Lack of a large-scale fire test facility impedes progress in model verification needed to proceed with performance-based building codes and standards. The controlled conditions of the environmental chambers are essential to research on components and systems for buildings with reduced environmental impact. Laboratories used by the Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory in Gaithersburg (Building 222 renovation) and Boulder (Clean-Room Building and Buildings 1 and 3). Current construction of the Advanced Chemical Sciences Laboratory in Gaithersburg, and an expansion of the Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology on the University of Maryland campus, will provide good facilities for the Analytical Chemistry and Biotechnology divisions. However, the other chemistry divisions will not be housed in these new facilities, and current facilities hamper work, especially in microscopic and surface measurements and in laser-based kinetics measurements.

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS: Fiscal Year 1997 The Physics Laboratory (Building 221). High levels of airborne macroscopic particulates, poor humidity control, and poor vibration isolation hamper work in areas such as metrology for microscale and atomic structures, as well as lasers and optical systems. They also threaten complex electronic instrumentation. The Metrology Laboratory (Building 220). Inadequate clean-room conditions can result in contamination of instruments sent to NIST by industrial customers for calibration. The contamination can be so great that customers cannot bring the instruments back into their own clean rooms after calibration. The Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory's Optoelectronics Laboratory. Lack of vibration-free clean-room space severely limits the scope of work in thin films and optoelectronics. Facilities problems include inadequate basic building services, such as the need for uninterruptable building power, air temperature and humidity control, proper air filtration, and vibration isolation for sensitive measurement facilities. Some of these needs, such as eliminating frequent power outages, are immediate and cannot wait for a major facilities upgrade. The quality of power can generally be improved by using the local utility's capabilities. When funding for new or upgraded required facilities is not available, research managers in both industry and universities apply the concept of triage to match high-impact projects sensitive to environmental conditions with suitably “clean” facilities as much as possible, and they do not attempt projects for which adequate facilities are unavailable. Outside user support is a means commonly used to reduce facilities shortcomings. The Board is pleased to note that the major upgrade of the NIST Research Reactor has been successfully completed, and this facility is a world-class operation. The significantly enhanced research capabilities resulting from the upgrade are now available to the reactor's users. Reactor operation has been reliable; since the facility restarted, it was available for 100 percent of the planned operating time, which was 70 percent of real time. Equipment Several areas of specific capital equipment improvement needs are cited in the panel reports in chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4, chapter 5, chapter 6, chapter 7 through chapter 8. Scheduling the upgrading of this instrumentation in concert with new building programs can eliminate the expense of relocating equipment that will soon be replaced. Equipment upgrades can also be achieved through partnerships with potential outside users. For example, the 53-MN structural load test facility is unique in the United States, but its upgrade may not be justifiable on the basis of NIST use alone. However, if enough industrial and other government users can be identified, NIST might be able to leverage its investment.

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS: Fiscal Year 1997 The bandwidth of the NIST-wide digital network managed by the Information Technology Laboratory is insufficient and hampers productivity in the laboratories. At a transmission rate of only 100 Mbits/second, the network can easily be overloaded by a handful of users. Personnel The Board and its panels again found the caliber and dedication of the NIST laboratory personnel to be very high. Use of nonpermanent and supplemental personnel (such as postdoctoral fellows, term employees, and visiting guest researchers) assists with critical short-term needs and helps identify talented new hires. One personnel issue is the inability of NIST to offer competitive starting salaries, especially at the PhD level, in fields of high demand such as information technology. The compensation structure for experienced personnel at the mid-career level is also below what is available in industrial settings. The outstanding quality of NIST staff does help to attract equally outstanding new hires, nonpermanent supplemental personnel, and visiting guest workers to the laboratories. Challenging work assignments and the opportunity to publish and gain professional recognition are also potential recruiting tools. Efforts to recruit personnel with industrial experience are appropriate given NIST's mission. The development and retention of the competencies needed at NIST require longer-term succession planning that anticipates pending retirements. Industrial firms typically establish training plans to obtain expertise in areas not adequately taught at universities. NIST planning in this regard seems insufficient. The panels observed a common problem among people working in service areas such as computer services and calibration services. To varying degrees, these personnel thought that the value of their contributions was not recognized by NIST management. They are critical to both the operation of the laboratories and the services provided to industry, but they may not receive the personal recognition or rewards available to other professional or technical staff. Another potential concern is efficiency in the delivery of support services. Some services (particularly in information technology) might be effectively provided by the commercial sector. Other-Agency Funding The panels reviewed the appropriateness of the current level of OA funding. All found that the balance with NIST internal funding is acceptable, and programs with OA funding are generally appropriate to the NIST mission.

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS: Fiscal Year 1997 Security Laboratory security was not a general problem but was discussed. One panel suggested that access to laboratories and other areas not considered public was insufficiently controlled to ensure a safe and secure environment for workers and visitors or to protect equipment investments. Any security program must be effectively communicated by all levels of management and must be understood and embraced by all staff to assure its successful use laboratorywide. PLANNING The Board finds great improvements in the NIST planning process since the last assessment. Although the maturity of planning varies between and within the laboratories, in general NIST laboratories and divisions have developed and refined explicit mission statements, goals, objectives, and long-term strategies for technology development. The planning process is much more customer oriented, with significant inputs from industry and other scientific and professional organizations. Participation in the planning process by managers and researchers at all levels has increased. Criteria for project selection, initiation, and completion have been developed based on economic impact as well as scientific merit, consistent with the laboratories' missions and objectives. The quality of the strategic and operational planning process is in some cases equal to or better than much industrial practice, and the Board is impressed by the substantial efforts spent on planning by NIST management. A world-class technical organization would continue its attention to planning in these ways: Bringing the planning process in all units up to a consistently high level by identifying and applying the organization's best planning practices; Aligning ongoing programs with the strategic plan more effectively; Reviewing and updating 5-year strategic plans annually; Aligning human resources planning, personnel career development, hiring, and training with the requirements of the strategic plans; Correlating facilities and equipment development plans with the requirements identified in the strategic plan; Continuing to benchmark capabilities against similar scientific institutions, as a basis for developing best practices for strategic planning; Considering expected outcomes, products, and deliverables; impact assessment; time to completion; metrics for success assessment; and technology transfer and delivery systems at

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An Assessment of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS: Fiscal Year 1997 the time of new project planning, and evaluating ongoing programs annually against the same criteria; and Closing the loop of the planning execution process by evaluating the results, outcomes, and impacts of previous programs for feedback into new project planning. MAJOR OBSERVATIONS The current facilities at NIST are inadequate to its mission in many cases and increasingly compromise the effectiveness of laboratory personnel and the cost-effectiveness of programs. The NIST laboratories' programmatic focus on development of new metrology expertise to anticipate needs of emerging technologies is highly appropriate and laudable. The overall quality of the laboratories' technical programs is high, with many programs defining the cutting edge in the field. Several NIST laboratories have excellent planning practices suitable for use as best planning practices across the NIST laboratories. These plans include assessment of customer needs, potential impact of each program, and metrics to measure program success. Human resources plans for the laboratories are insufficient, lacking enough mechanisms for recruitment and retention in highly competitive markets, and also lacking training programs for some areas of expertise not readily available from academia or industry. NIST efforts to develop economic measures of program success are laudable. Improved metrics for the economic impact of research programs are still needed to assist in program planning and justification. In some critical areas, NIST has not taken on the necessary leadership role in international standards activities. NIST's use of the World Wide Web to disseminate information and products is laudable and will almost surely increase the impact of its work. NIST could improve the efficiency of information searches on its Web site and serve as a model for data dissemination on the Internet. NIST may not be achieving maximum efficiency in delivery of some support services, such as computer network capabilities.