This chapter assesses the extent to which the Material Measurement Laboratory (MML) followed the recommendations made in the previous review by the National Academies1—hereafter “the 2017 review.” The sections below include observations on specific recommendations from 2017 that were addressed to the offices and divisions.
OFFICE OF REFERENCE MATERIALS
The leadership and staff of the Office of Reference Materials (ORM) have made earnest efforts and significant progress in meeting recommendations in response to the 2017 review. In particular, ORM has greatly improved the e-business tools that are necessary to operate efficiently and effectively to meet customer and market needs. Further, ORM is looking forward to anticipated standard reference material (SRM) needs that arise from new and emerging industry sectors, and is working closely with other NIST units to develop those SRMs. Storage and packaging issues are still significant challenges and ORM recognizes how these needs limit their ability to be responsive to the needs of industry. ORM has made progress working with NIST units to create new SRMs, yet the importance of SRMs to NIST mission is not widely understood by all MML technical staff.
OFFICE OF DATA AND INFORMATICS
The Office of Data and Informatics (ODI) has made serious progress in achieving the goals in response to the 2017 report. In the response to the 2017 review, ODI had proposed to push for laboratory-driven science involving instrumentation and detectors and analytics. ODI has introduced efforts to embed data driven metrology into the research workflow at NIST. Laboratory information management system (LIMS) capabilities at NIST have advanced significantly through establishment of a network. The cultural acceptance of doing data driven research is still a challenge. Scientific researchers not familiar with data analytical techniques still question why it is necessary track and keep data. The challenges acknowledged in the 2017 review seem to persist. Initial efforts toward data management plans (DMPs) were uneven, and staff generally consider DMPs to be an administrative burden with no real benefit.
1 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2017, An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Material Measurement Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2017, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
MATERIALS SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING DIVISION
In the 2017 review, it was noted in Recommendation 17 that the MML should consider updating the Materials Science and Engineering Division’s (MSED’s) laboratory equipment for making, processing, and preparing metallic alloys for testing (p. 8). From a higher-level review of future program directions, it appears that MSED is matching strategic direction with functional laboratory capability. MSED should however continue to ensure the alloy melting furnaces been reviewed for atmospheric control and melting capacity both on a heat size and annual capacity basis; give consideration to upgrading the instrumentation of the laboratory rolling mill; and review or upgrade, as appropriate, metallographic preparation facilities in light of existing and new alloys being developed, and the expected amount of metallographic preparation required in the future.
MATERIALS MEASUREMENT SCIENCE DIVISION
The responses to the three findings and recommendations included in the Materials Measurement Science Division (MMSD) section of the 2017 review are appropriate. The MMSD competency database was terminated in 2016. Now inter- and intra-division collaborations are fostered through mechanisms focused around increased awareness and communications regarding division activities. The second recommendation was to consider leveraging the NIST postdoctoral network with a professional development program in order to improve connectivity across NIST and improve transparency of how to succeed, especially for early career staff. A new comprehensive program was launched in fiscal year 2020 to ensure all staff have a clear understanding of how to have a successful experience within MMSD and NIST. The recommendation to consider making the application of the MMSD’s experimental design and statistical analysis more uniform has been addressed through working closely with the NIST Statistical Engineering Division.
BIOSYSTEMS AND BIOMATERIALS DIVISION
In the Biosystems and Biomaterials Division (BBD), the review panel noted strong collaborator outreach through consortia, workshops, and leadership participation in international panels and working groups as well as internal collaboration with ODI. Collectively, these activities succeeded in addressing and in some instances likely exceeding the expectations of the recommendations from the 2017 review.
One area that is particularly challenging is the need to monitor for any loss of scientific knowledge. With an escalating workload and a declining number of people, it has become difficult to spend time cross training staff into different areas. For instance, virology and microbiology are becoming very significant and call for expertise in microbes and attendant expertise in fluid mechanics and colloidal science. In such instances, cross training builds depth of knowledge and prepares for such eventualities as can occur when someone leaves (due to another job, governmental policy changes) and another person must fill the role. A similar recommendation (9) was made in the 2017 review (p. 6).
The division conducted the renovations called for in Recommendation 10 of the 2017 review. These however were accompanied by a 20 percent reduction in space.
The issue of cost burden due to agency (NIST) overhead remains, which was Recommendation 11 of the 2017 review (p. 7), and which hinders interagency grants. This could be addressed by a review of this overhead.
BIOMOLECULAR MEASUREMENT DIVISION
The Biomolecular Measurement Division (BMD) has done overall a good job in responding to the recommendations of the 2017 review. The challenge lies in finding resources for maintaining existing infrastructure (leaky roofs, HVAC [heating, ventilation and cooling] in need of repair, etc.) while still being able to update instrumentation capabilities. Buildings on the main campus may have exceeded their “design life” and were otherwise in need of repair. Findings resources to address this is difficult but critical to maintaining infrastructure that is consistent with, and will support operations of exquisitely sensitive instruments, and the brand for excellence that is associated with NIST worldwide.
CHEMICAL SCIENCES DIVISION
The Chemical Sciences Division (CSD) has made important inroads to address the recommendation from the 2017 review. For instance, the administrative staff has undergone a reorganization and several non-PhD staff have been hired to assist with technical support. CSD has also been successful in increasing the numbers of National Research Council (NRC) postdoctoral fellows, thereby enabling new research endeavors.
CSD could continue to work on increasing their visibility and impact through seminar series, serving on panels and “staff exchanges with industry, national laboratories, etc. It can facilitate the retention of current staff by proactively recruiting the best postdoctoral candidates from all groups and establishing a formal process for nominating (and winning) external awards. The ability to update and replace equipment, as well as acquire new capabilities, is another area that CSD could continue to improve.
APPLIED CHEMICALS AND MATERIALS DIVISION
The 2017 review for the Applied Chemicals and Materials Division (ACMD) suggested two recommendations: (1) expanding efforts in high-risk projects and (2) engaging personnel in exchange programs with other organizations in industry, universities, and national laboratories. Significant progress was demonstrated in the first recommendation for high-risk projects as evidenced by several presentations; specifically, in vapor science for forensics and in unique experimental methods for measuring more accurate thermophysical material properties. It is suggested that ACMD continue its effort to move to more high-risk, high-payoff projects. The second recommendation related to exchange programs, while desirable, was not addressed in presentations. Logistics of such exchange programs are not compatible with present national health issues.