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 six,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 standards needs, to enable scientific and technological advances, and to 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 the Engineering Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and established the following statement of task for the panel:
The Panel on Review of the Engineering 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) Engineering 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 requested that in 2020 the panel confine its assessment to the following activities conducted at the Engineering Laboratory (EL), which conducts activities in other areas as well:
- Community Resilience Program,
- Structural Performance Under Multi-hazards (SPUMH) Program,
- Earthquake Risk Reduction in Buildings and Infrastructure Program,
- Engineered Materials for Resilient Infrastructure Program,
- Fire Research Programs,
- Net-Zero Energy, High-Performance Buildings Program, and
- Embedded Intelligence in Buildings Program.
1 The six National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) laboratories are the Engineering Laboratory, the Physical Measurement Laboratory, the Information Technology Laboratory, the Material Measurement Laboratory, the Communication Technology Laboratory, and the NIST Center for Neutron Research.
The Director of NIST also suggested that the panel consider during its assessment the following factors:
- The technical merit of the current laboratory program relative to current state-of-the-art programs worldwide;
- The portfolio of scientific expertise as it supports the ability of the organization to achieve its stated objectives;
- The adequacy of the laboratory budget, facilities, equipment, and human resources, as they affect the quality of the laboratory’s technical programs; and
- The effectiveness by which the laboratory disseminates its program outputs.
To accomplish the assessment, the National Academies assembled a panel of 24 volunteers whose expertise matched that of the work performed by the EL staff.2
On September 29 through October 1, 2020, the panel assembled virtually (the COVID-19 pandemic prohibited an in-person meeting) and interacted with NIST staff for a 3-day assessment, during which it received welcoming remarks from the Director of NIST and the EL director, heard overview presentations by EL management and presentations by researchers at the EL, and virtually toured portions of the EL facility. The panel chair attended an interactive session with the Director of NIST, the NIST Associate Director for Laboratory Programs, and the Director of the Engineering Laboratory. The panel also met in a closed session to deliberate on its findings and to define the contents of this assessment report.
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 technical merit of programs at the EL; the portfolio of scientific expertise within the laboratory; the adequacy of the laboratory’s facilities, equipment, and human resources; and the effectiveness of the laboratory’s dissemination of its 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 EL prior to, during, and after the review meeting. The choice of projects to be reviewed was made by the EL. 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 EL project should not be interpreted as a negative reflection on the omitted project.