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Suggested Citation:"10 Key Suggestions for Improvement." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physical Measurement Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2015. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23448.
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10

Key Suggestions for Improvement

The quality of work done at the PML and its response to the stakeholders whose interests it addresses are excellent. Each division deserves high accolades, which are discussed at length in previous chapters. This chapter highlights key suggestions for improvement.

Applied Physics and Quantum Electromagnetics Divisions

The restructuring of the former Quantum Electronics and Photonics Division and Electromagnetics Division into the Applied Physics Division (APD) and the Quantum Electromagnetic Division seems to have been accomplished smoothly. However, the decision by the PML to have the panel jointly review the two divisions as one entity created some confusion and did not allow an in-depth analysis of either division. The APD as a consequence needs to be analyzed in more depth in coming reviews to provide a clearer view of its mission and how it integrates into the overall PML effort.

Engineering Physics Division

It will be important that PML avoid duplication of effort in the area of nontraditional materials conducted by better-funded teams investigating the science or technology of these speculative materials systems.

Quantum Electromagnetics Division

This optical quantum entanglement effort at the PML is among the many similar outstanding activities around the world. PML activity is not at the fundamental leading edge of science, but it is taking advantage of the superb photon sensors that the PML has developed. This activity is outstanding toward bringing QI science into practice, even though it may still take many years to accomplish that.

The work in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging, while strong, needs to be expanded to include the rapidly growing area of functional NMR imaging (fMRI), so that claims made in the literature can be evaluated more carefully.

The Quantum Sensors Group has had a significant impact in millimeter wave polarimetry with its detector arrays, but the group serves so many external groups that it seems somewhat oversubscribed.

PML staff suggested that the Gaithersburg and Boulder nanofabrication facilities could support many more NIST projects or outside collaborators.

The new facility at the University of Maryland further disperses the division and could challenge current cohesiveness and collaborations.

PML staff reported that overhead charges on graduate students and on capital equipment are excessive.

The number of technical staff needs to be increased.

Suggested Citation:"10 Key Suggestions for Improvement." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physical Measurement Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2015. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23448.
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Office of Weights and Measures

The effort by the Metric Program to implement SI units in the United States is lagging. Better quantitative metrics for the effectiveness of the Legal Metrology group needs to be established. The number of accredited and recognized laboratories at the state level for dissemination of mass and volume standards for stakeholders is declining.

PML predicts a large wave of retirements (50 percent of staff) in this office in the coming 5 years, and PML needs to examine the implication of the retirements and determine what replacements, if any, will be required.

Quantum Measurements Division

The partial relocation of the groups to the University of Maryland campus as the Joint Quantum Institute presents both opportunities and challenges that warrant careful monitoring so that the groups do not become isolated.

It will be important that the Synchrometrology Group have sufficient resources to play a role in the upcoming renovation of the national power grid into a smart grid. This effort will have a worldwide scope.

Quantum Physics Division

The Quantum Physics Division is likely to become increasingly involved in nanotechnology and biotechnology, broad areas in which careful planning will help to establish productive PML niches.

The scientific interests of the division show strong overlap with those of the Time and Frequency Division; this represents complementary activities in areas in which NIST is a world leader. The activities in biological physics have not been well integrated with those of other efforts within the Quantum Physics Division. PML needs to examine the relationship of biology to other division efforts. The division needs to develop firm guidelines for a consistent and clear approach to the development of intellectual property.

Several staff mentioned that a high overhead rate on capital equipment makes acquisition of expensive equipment very difficult.

Radiation Physics Division

Building 245 in which the Radiation Physics Division is primarily housed is approaching a dangerous and unsafe condition; immediate attention is warranted. In the laboratories of Building 245, where most of the radionuclide standards are prepared for shipment, the rooms are old and lacking in proper heating and ventilation, with consequent inadequate control of humidity and temperature. Neutron source standardization is carried out in a number of shielded, below-grade laboratories in Building 245. Water intrusion during heavy rains has become an issue, because the building is no longer watertight. Dispersal of the source material is remotely possible, but the immediate concern is damage and loss of calibration traceability. These events are, at a minimum, distractions to overburdened scientists, and in some cases have threatened to flood sources under test.

The Dosimetry Group primarily works with its large stakeholder community, providing more opportunity and support to do research would enhance the quality of the staff and the work done.

Lack of funds is resulting in non-replacement of retiring critical employees and in requiring Ph.D. level staff to do routine tasks, stealing time from their technical work. Unfortunately, there are examples where dissemination of proper radioactivity standards has not been able to proceed as rapidly as required, owing to lack of funds.

The division needs to strengthen the training program that involves students and postdoctoral researchers in each of the critical standards activities and to foster a program to share equipment and facilities with users at other national laboratories and universities.

Suggested Citation:"10 Key Suggestions for Improvement." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physical Measurement Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2015. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23448.
×

Sensor Science Division

One possible caution concerns the increasing emphasis on lower-cost, lower-SWAP sensors for future satellite systems. The division could prepare to calibrate much smaller radiometers for its customers.

As microfluidics becomes ever more important, it will be correspondingly important to continue developing noninvasive and in-line ways to determine microflows.

While the overarching strategy was well articulated, the division did not describe plans for some of the projects, particularly those that are funded externally; those working on internally funded initiatives seemed to have more concrete plans. The division needs to clarify plans for externally funded projects.

Retirements are being delayed because of difficulties in finding appropriate replacements.

Time and Frequency Division

The NIST-on-a-Chip effort will involve this division, which needs to expand development of its roadmap for this work.

The division’s scientific expertise evident during the review was primarily of an experimental nature. The division needs to consider whether the theoretical expertise resident within the division is sufficient to support future experimental efforts.

Challenges associated with shortage of meeting and collaboration space have been voiced by TFD staff. Staff also expressed concerns with respect to an onerous procurement process that incurs substantial delays.

The emphasis on patent preparation does not appear to be stable from year to year. A careful assessment by the division of the value of patenting would be worthwhile. Once the value proposition is in hand, more consistent direction to staff can be provided.

Suggested Citation:"10 Key Suggestions for Improvement." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physical Measurement Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2015. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23448.
×
Page 56
Suggested Citation:"10 Key Suggestions for Improvement." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physical Measurement Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2015. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23448.
×
Page 57
Suggested Citation:"10 Key Suggestions for Improvement." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Physical Measurement Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2015. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23448.
×
Page 58
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The Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is dedicated to three fundamental and complementary tasks: (1) increase the accuracy of our knowledge of the physical parameters that are the foundation of our technology-driven society; (2) disseminate technologies by which these physical parameters can be accessed in a standardized way by the stakeholders; and (3) conduct research at both fundamental and applied levels to provide knowledge that may eventually lead to advances in measurement approaches and standards. This report assesses the scientific and technical work performed by the PML and identifies salient examples of accomplishments, challenges, and opportunities for improvement for each of its nine divisions.

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