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. 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 standard’s needs, enable scientific and technological advances, and improve and refine existing measurement methods and services.
At the request of the Acting Director of NIST, in 2017 the National Academies formed the Panel on Review of Four Divisions of the Physical Measurement Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (the “panel”) and established the following statement of task for the panel:
The Panel on Review of Four Divisions of the Physical Measurement Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology will assess the scientific and technical work performed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Physical Measurement Laboratory. The panel will review technical reports and technical program descriptions prepared by NIST staff and will visit the facilities of the NIST laboratory. The visit will include technical presentations by NIST staff, demonstrations of NIST projects, tours of NIST facilities, and discussions with NIST staff. The panel will deliberate findings in a closed session panel meeting and will prepare a report summarizing its assessment findings.
The Director of NIST also suggested that the panel consider during its assessment the following factors:
- Assess the organization’s technical programs.
- How does the quality of the research compare to similar world class research in the technical program areas?
- Is the quality of the technical programs adequate for the organization to reach its stated technical objectives? How could it be improved?
- Assess the portfolio of scientific expertise within the organization.
- Does the organization have world class scientific expertise in the areas of the organization’s mission and program objectives? If not, what areas should it be improved?
- How well does the organization’s scientific expertise support the organization’s technical programs and the organization’s ability to achieve its stated objectives?
- Assess the adequacy of the organization’s facilities, equipment, and human resources.
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.
- How well do the facilities, equipment, and human resources support the organization’s technical programs and its ability to achieve its state objectives? How could they be improved?
- Assess the effectiveness by which the organization disseminates its program outputs.
- How well are the organization’s research programs driven by stakeholder needs?
- How effective are the technology transfer mechanisms used by the organization? Are these mechanisms sufficiently comprehensive?
- How well is the organization monitoring stakeholder use and impact of program outputs? How could this be improved?
The expertise of the panel of 22 volunteers matched that of the work performed by the Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML) staff.2
On May 1-3, 2018, the panel assembled at the NIST facilities in Boulder, Colorado, for a two- and-a-half-day assessment, during which it received welcoming remarks from the Director of NIST and from the PML director, heard overview presentations by PML management and presentations by researchers at the PML, toured portions of the PML facilities, and attended an interactive session with PML management. The panel also met in a closed session to deliberate on its findings and to define the contents of this assessment report.3
The panel’s approach to the assessment relied on the experience, technical knowledge, and expertise of its members. The panel did not attempt to report an exhaustive assessment of every project reviewed. Rather, the panel’s goal was to identify and report accomplishments and opportunities for further improvement with respect to the following: the quality of the technical programs at the PML; the portfolio of scientific expertise within the laboratory; the adequacy of the laboratory’s facilities, equipment, and human resources; and the effectiveness by which the organization disseminates its program outputs. The panel illustrated its conclusions with salient examples of programs and projects that are intended collectively to portray an overall impression of the laboratory, while preserving useful suggestions specific to projects and programs.
To accomplish its mission, the panel reviewed the material provided by the PML prior to and during the review meeting. The choice of projects to be reviewed was made by the PML. The panel applied a largely qualitative approach to the assessment. Given the nonexhaustive nature of the review, the omission in this report of any particular PML project should not be interpreted as a negative reflection on the omitted project. For all the projects reviewed, at least two panel members had direct expertise.
3 The agenda for the May 1-3, 2018, assessment meeting is at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine website, http://www8.nationalacademies.org/cp/meetingview.aspx?MeetingID=9904&MeetingNo=1.