At the request of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has, since 1959, annually assembled panels of experts from academia, industry, medicine, and other scientific and engineering communities to assess the quality and effectiveness of the NIST measurements and standards laboratories, of which there are now seven,1 as well as the adequacy of the laboratories’ resources.
At the request of the Director of NIST, in 2015 the National Research Council (NRC) formed the Panel on Review of the Physical Measurement Laboratory at NIST and established the following statement of task for the panel:
The National Research Council shall appoint a panel to assess the scientific and technical work performed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML). This panel will review technical reports and technical program descriptions prepared by NIST staff and will visit the facilities at the Physical Measurement Laboratory. Visits will include technical presentations by NIST staff, demonstrations of NIST projects, tours of NIST facilities, and discussions with NIST staff. The panel will prepare a report summarizing its assessment findings.
The context of this technical assessment is 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 the quality of life. The NIST laboratories conduct research to anticipate future metrology and standards needs, to enable scientific and technological advances, and to improve and refine existing measurement methods and services.
NIST specified that the nine divisions of the Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML) would be reviewed: the Applied Physics Division (APD), Engineering Physics Division (EPD), Quantum Electromagnetics Division (QED), Office of Weights and Measures (OWM), Quantum Measurement Division (QMD), Quantum Physics Division (QPD), Radiation Physics Division (RPD), Sensor Science Division (SSD), and Time and Frequency Division (TFD). To accomplish the assessment, the NRC assembled a panel of 26 volunteers whose expertise matched that of the work performed by the PML staff.2
On September 9, 2015, a subset of the panel assembled at the NIST facility in Boulder, Colorado, for a two-day assessment, and on September 29 the full panel assembled at the NIST facility in Gaithersburg for a two-and-a-half-day assessment. Each panel member was assigned to one of the nine teams, each of which reviewed one of the PML divisions. The full panel then met to deliberate on its findings and to define the contents of this assessment report.
1 The seven NIST laboratories are the Engineering Laboratory, the Physical Measurement Laboratory, the Information Technology Laboratory, the Material Measurement Laboratory, the Communication Technology Laboratory, the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, and the NIST Center for Neutron Research.
The panel’s approach to the assessment relied on the experience, technical knowledge, and expertise of its members. The panel reviewed selected examples of the technical research performed at the PML; because of time constraints, it was not possible to review the PML programs and projects exhaustively. The examples reviewed by the panel were selected by the PML. The panel’s goal was to identify and report salient examples of accomplishments, challenges, and opportunities for improvement with respect to the factors suggested above by the director of NIST. These examples are intended collectively to portray an overall impression of the laboratory, while preserving useful suggestions specific to the projects and programs that the panel examined. Given the necessarily broad and nonexhaustive nature of the review, omission in this report of any particular PML program or project should not be interpreted as implying any negative reflection on the omitted program or project.