National Institute of Standards and Technology

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National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
NIST logo.svg
Agency overview
FormedMarch 3, 1901;123 years ago (March 3, 1901) (as National Bureau of Standards),
became NIST in 1988
Headquarters100 Bureau Drive
Gaithersburg, Maryland, U.S.
39°07′59″N77°13′25″W / 39.13306°N 77.22361°W / 39.13306; -77.22361
EmployeesApprox. 3,400 [1]
Annual budget $1.03 billion (FY 2021) [2]
Agency executive
Parent department Department of Commerce

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is an agency of the United States Department of Commerce whose mission is to promote American innovation and industrial competitiveness. NIST's activities are organized into physical science laboratory programs that include nanoscale science and technology, engineering, information technology, neutron research, material measurement, and physical measurement. From 1901 to 1988, the agency was named the National Bureau of Standards. [4]




The Articles of Confederation, ratified by the colonies in 1781, provided:

The United States in Congress assembled shall also have the sole and exclusive right and power of regulating the alloy and value of coin struck by their own authority, or by that of the respective states—fixing the standards of weights and measures throughout the United States. [5]

Article 1, section 8, of the Constitution of the United States, ratified in 1789, granted these powers to the new Congress: "The Congress shall have power ... To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures". [6]

In January 1790, President George Washington, in his first annual message to Congress, said, "Uniformity in the currency, weights, and measures of the United States is an object of great importance, and will, I am persuaded, be duly attended to." [7]

On October 25, 1791, Washington again appealed Congress:

A uniformity of the weights and measures of the country is among the important objects submitted to you by the Constitution and if it can be derived from a standard at once invariable and universal, must be no less honorable to the public council than conducive to the public convenience. [8]

In 1821, President John Quincy Adams declared, "Weights and measures may be ranked among the necessities of life to every individual of human society.". [9] Nevertheless, it was not until 1838 that the United States government adopted a uniform set of standards. [6]

From 1830 until 1901, the role of overseeing weights and measures was carried out by the Office of Standard Weights and Measures, which was part of the Survey of the Coast—renamed the United States Coast Survey in 1836 and the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1878—in the United States Department of the Treasury. [10] [11] [12]

Bureau of Standards (1901–1988)

In 1901, in response to a bill proposed by Congressman James H. Southard (R, Ohio), the National Bureau of Standards was founded with the mandate to provide standard weights and measures, and to serve as the national physical laboratory for the United States. Southard had previously sponsored a bill for metric conversion of the United States. [13]

Chart of NBS activities, 1915 Wheeled chart of National Bureau of Standards activities, 1915.jpg
Chart of NBS activities, 1915

President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Samuel W. Stratton as the first director. The budget for the first year of operation was $40,000. The Bureau took custody of the copies of the kilogram and meter bars that were the standards for US measures, and set up a program to provide metrology services for United States scientific and commercial users. A laboratory site was constructed in Washington, DC, and instruments were acquired from the national physical laboratories of Europe. In addition to weights and measures, the Bureau developed instruments for electrical units and for measurement of light. In 1905 a meeting was called that would be the first "National Conference on Weights and Measures".

Initially conceived as purely a metrology agency, the Bureau of Standards was directed by Herbert Hoover to set up divisions to develop commercial standards for materials and products. [13] Some of these standards were for products intended for government use, but product standards also affected private-sector consumption. Quality standards were developed for products including some types of clothing, automobile brake systems and headlamps, antifreeze, and electrical safety. During World War I, the Bureau worked on multiple problems related to war production, even operating its own facility to produce optical glass when European supplies were cut off. Between the wars, Harry Diamond of the Bureau developed a blind approach radio aircraft landing system. During World War II, military research and development was carried out, including development of radio propagation forecast methods, the proximity fuze and the standardized airframe used originally for Project Pigeon, and shortly afterwards the autonomously radar-guided Bat anti-ship guided bomb and the Kingfisher family of torpedo-carrying missiles.

A mass spectrometer in use at the NBS in 1948 SpectroscopyResearch 012.jpg
A mass spectrometer in use at the NBS in 1948

In 1948, financed by the United States Air Force, the Bureau began design and construction of SEAC, the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer. The computer went into operation in May 1950 using a combination of vacuum tubes and solid-state diode logic. About the same time the Standards Western Automatic Computer, was built at the Los Angeles office of the NBS by Harry Huskey and used for research there. A mobile version, DYSEAC, was built for the Signal Corps in 1954.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (from 1988)

Due to a changing mission, the "National Bureau of Standards" became the "National Institute of Standards and Technology" in 1988. [10] Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, NIST conducted the official investigation into the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings.

In 2019, NIST launched a program named NIST on a Chip to decrease the size of instruments from lab machines to chip size. Applications include aircraft testing, communication with satellites for navigation purposes, and temperature and pressure. [14] Following the 2021 Surfside condominium building collapse, NIST sent engineers to the site to investigate the cause of the collapse. [15]

In 2023, the Biden administration began plans to create a U.S. AI Safety Institute within NIST to coordinate AI safety matters. According to The Washington Post , NIST is considered "notoriously underfunded and understaffed", which could present an obstacle to these efforts. [16]


NIST, known between 1901 and 1988 as the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), is a measurement standards laboratory, also known as the National Metrological Institute (NMI), which is a non-regulatory agency of the United States Department of Commerce. The institute's official mission is to: [17]

Promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.


NIST had an operating budget for fiscal year 2007 (October 1, 2006 September 30, 2007) of about $843.3 million. NIST's 2009 budget was $992 million, and it also received $610 million as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. [18] NIST employs about 2,900 scientists, engineers, technicians, and support and administrative personnel. About 1,800 NIST associates (guest researchers and engineers from American companies and foreign countries) complement the staff. In addition, NIST partners with 1,400 manufacturing specialists and staff at nearly 350 affiliated centers around the country. NIST publishes the Handbook 44 that provides the "Specifications, tolerances, and other technical requirements for weighing and measuring devices".

Metric system

The Congress of 1866 made use of the metric system in commerce a legally protected activity through the passage of Metric Act of 1866. [19] On May 20, 1875, 17 out of 20 countries signed a document known as the Metric Convention or the Treaty of the Meter, which established the International Bureau of Weights and Measures under the control of an international committee elected by the General Conference on Weights and Measures. [20]


Advanced Measurement Laboratory Complex in Gaithersburg NIST AML building.jpg
Advanced Measurement Laboratory Complex in Gaithersburg
Aerial view of the Gaithersburg campus in 2019 NIST campus aerial 2019.jpg
Aerial view of the Gaithersburg campus in 2019
Boulder Laboratories NIST in the mist.jpg
Boulder Laboratories

NIST is headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and operates a facility in Boulder, Colorado, which was dedicated by President Eisenhower in 1954. [21] [22] [23] NIST's activities are organized into laboratory programs and extramural programs. Effective October 1, 2010, NIST was realigned by reducing the number of NIST laboratory units from ten to six. [24] NIST Laboratories include: [25]

Extramural programs include:

NIST's Boulder laboratories are best known for NIST‑F1, which houses an atomic clock. NIST‑F1 serves as the source of the nation's official time. From its measurement of the natural resonance frequency of cesium—which defines the second—NIST broadcasts time signals via longwave radio station WWVB near Fort Collins, Colorado, and shortwave radio stations WWV and WWVH, located near Fort Collins and Kekaha, Hawaii, respectively. [33]

NIST also operates a neutron science user facility: the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR). The NCNR provides scientists access to a variety of neutron scattering instruments, which they use in many research fields (materials science, fuel cells, biotechnology, etc.).

The SURF III Synchrotron Ultraviolet Radiation Facility is a source of synchrotron radiation, in continuous operation since 1961. SURF III now serves as the US national standard for source-based radiometry throughout the generalized optical spectrum. All NASA-borne, extreme-ultraviolet observation instruments have been calibrated at SURF since the 1970s, and SURF is used for measurement and characterization of systems for extreme ultraviolet lithography.

The Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) performs research in nanotechnology, both through internal research efforts and by running a user-accessible cleanroom nanomanufacturing facility. This "NanoFab" is equipped with tools for lithographic patterning and imaging (e.g., electron microscopes and atomic force microscopes).


NIST has seven standing committees:


A 40 nm wide NIST logo made with cobalt atoms NIST HipHopAtomLogo.jpg
A 40 nm wide NIST logo made with cobalt atoms

Measurements and standards

As part of its mission, NIST supplies industry, academia, government, and other users with over 1,300 Standard Reference Materials (SRMs). These artifacts are certified as having specific characteristics or component content, used as calibration standards for measuring equipment and procedures, quality control benchmarks for industrial processes, and experimental control samples.

Handbook 44

NIST publishes the Handbook 44 each year after the annual meeting of the National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM). Each edition is developed through cooperation of the Committee on Specifications and Tolerances of the NCWM and the Weights and Measures Division (WMD) of NIST. The purpose of the book is a partial fulfillment of the statutory responsibility for "cooperation with the states in securing uniformity of weights and measures laws and methods of inspection".

NIST has been publishing various forms of what is now the Handbook 44 since 1918 and began publication under the current name in 1949. The 2010 edition conforms to the concept of the primary use of the SI (metric) measurements recommended by the Omnibus Foreign Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988. [34] [35]

Homeland security

NIST is developing government-wide identity document standards for federal employees and contractors to prevent unauthorized persons from gaining access to government buildings and computer systems.[ citation needed ]

World Trade Center collapse investigation

In 2002, the National Construction Safety Team Act mandated NIST to conduct an investigation into the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings 1 and 2 and the 47-story 7 World Trade Center. The "World Trade Center Collapse Investigation", directed by lead investigator Shyam Sunder, [36] covered three aspects, including a technical building and fire safety investigation to study the factors contributing to the probable cause of the collapses of the WTC Towers (WTC 1 and 2) and WTC 7. NIST also established a research and development program to provide the technical basis for improved building and fire codes, standards, and practices, and a dissemination and technical assistance program to engage leaders of the construction and building community in implementing proposed changes to practices, standards, and codes. NIST also is providing practical guidance and tools to better prepare facility owners, contractors, architects, engineers, emergency responders, and regulatory authorities to respond to future disasters. The investigation portion of the response plan was completed with the release of the final report on 7 World Trade Center on November 20, 2008. The final report on the WTC Towers—including 30 recommendations for improving building and occupant safety—was released on October 26, 2005. [37]

Election technology

NIST works in conjunction with the Technical Guidelines Development Committee of the Election Assistance Commission to develop the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines for voting machines and other election technology.

Cybersecurity Framework

In February 2014 NIST published the NIST Cybersecurity Framework that serves as voluntary guidance for organizations to manage and reduce cybersecurity risk. [38] It was later amended and Version 1.1 was published in April 2018. [39] Executive Order 13800, Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure, made the Framework mandatory for U.S. federal government agencies. [38] An extension to the NIST Cybersecurity Framework is the Cybersecurity Maturity Model (CMMC) which was introduced in 2019 (though the origin of CMMC began with Executive Order 13556). [40]

It emphasizes the importance of implementing Zero-trust architecture (ZTA) which focuses on protecting resources over the network perimeter. ZTA utilizes zero trust principles which include "never trust, always verify", "assume breach" and "least privileged access" to safeguard users, assets, and resources. Since ZTA holds no implicit trust to users within the network perimeter, authentication and authorization are performed at every stage of a digital transaction. This reduces the risk of unauthorized access to resources. [41]

NIST released a draft of the CSF 2.0 for public comment through November 4, 2023. NIST decided to update the framework to make it more applicable to small and medium size enterprises that use the framework, as well as to accommodate the constantly changing nature of cybersecurity. [42]


Four scientific researchers at NIST have been awarded Nobel Prizes for work in physics: William Daniel Phillips in 1997, Eric Allin Cornell in 2001, John Lewis Hall in 2005 and David Jeffrey Wineland in 2012, which is the largest number for any US government laboratory. All four were recognized for their work related to laser cooling of atoms, which is directly related to the development and advancement of the atomic clock. In 2011, Dan Shechtman was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work on quasicrystals in the Metallurgy Division from 1982 to 1984. In addition, John Werner Cahn was awarded the 2011 Kyoto Prize for Materials Science, and the National Medal of Science has been awarded to NIST researchers Cahn (1998) and Wineland (2007). Other notable people who have worked at NBS or NIST include:


Since 1989, the director of NIST has been a Presidential appointee and is confirmed by the United States Senate, [43] and since that year the average tenure of NIST directors has fallen from 11 years to 2 years in duration. Since the 2011 reorganization of NIST, the director also holds the title of Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology. Fifteen individuals have officially held the position (in addition to four acting directors who have served on a temporary basis).


NIST holds patents on behalf of the Federal government of the United States, [44] with at least one of them being custodial to protect public domain use, such as one for a Chip-scale atomic clock, developed by a NIST team as part of a DARPA competition. [45]

Controversy regarding NIST standard SP 800-90

In September 2013, both The Guardian and The New York Times reported that NIST allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) to insert a cryptographically secure pseudorandom number generator called Dual EC DRBG into NIST standard SP 800-90 that had a kleptographic backdoor that the NSA can use to covertly predict the future outputs of this pseudorandom number generator thereby allowing the surreptitious decryption of data. [46] Both papers report [47] [48] that the NSA worked covertly to get its own version of SP 800-90 approved for worldwide use in 2006. The whistle-blowing document states that "eventually, NSA became the sole editor". The reports confirm suspicions and technical grounds publicly raised by cryptographers in 2007 that the EC-DRBG could contain a kleptographic backdoor (perhaps placed in the standard by NSA). [49]

NIST responded to the allegations, stating that "NIST works to publish the strongest cryptographic standards possible" and that it uses "a transparent, public process to rigorously vet our recommended standards". [50] The agency stated that "there has been some confusion about the standards development process and the role of different organizations in it...The National Security Agency (NSA) participates in the NIST cryptography process because of its recognized expertise. NIST is also required by statute to consult with the NSA." [51] Recognizing the concerns expressed, the agency reopened the public comment period for the SP800-90 publications, promising that "if vulnerabilities are found in these or any other NIST standards, we will work with the cryptographic community to address them as quickly as possible". [52] Due to public concern of this cryptovirology attack, NIST rescinded the EC-DRBG algorithm from the NIST SP 800-90 standard. [53]


Guide to NIST in PDF Guide to NIST (IA guidetonist858cova).pdf
Guide to NIST in PDF

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">International Bureau of Weights and Measures</span> Intergovernmental measurement science and measurement standards setting organisation

The International Bureau of Weights and Measures is an intergovernmental organisation, through which its 59 member-states act on measurement standards in areas including chemistry, ionising radiation, physical metrology, as well as the International System of Units (SI) and Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). It is based in Saint-Cloud, near Paris, France. The organisation has been referred to as IBWM in older literature.

The General Conference on Weights and Measures is the supreme authority of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), the intergovernmental organization established in 1875 under the terms of the Metre Convention through which member states act together on matters related to measurement science and measurement standards. The CGPM is made up of delegates of the governments of the member states and observers from the Associates of the CGPM. It elects the International Committee for Weights and Measures as the supervisory board of the BIPM to direct and supervise it.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Inch</span> Unit of length

The inch is a unit of length in the British Imperial and the United States customary systems of measurement. It is equal to 1/36 yard or 1/12 of a foot. Derived from the Roman uncia ("twelfth"), the word inch is also sometimes used to translate similar units in other measurement systems, usually understood as deriving from the width of the human thumb.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kilogram</span> Metric unit of mass

The kilogram is the base unit of mass in the International System of Units (SI), having the unit symbol kg. It is a widely used measure in science, engineering and commerce worldwide, and is often simply called a kilo colloquially. It means 'one thousand grams'.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Litre</span> Unit of volume

The litre or liter is a metric unit of volume. It is equal to 1 cubic decimetre (dm3), 1000 cubic centimetres (cm3) or 0.001 cubic metres (m3). A cubic decimetre occupies a volume of 10 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm and is thus equal to one-thousandth of a cubic metre.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metre</span> SI unit of length

The metre is the base unit of length in the International System of Units (SI). Since 2019 the metre has been defined as the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299792458 of a second, where the second is defined by a hyperfine transition frequency of caesium.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metre Convention</span> 1875 international treaty

The Metre Convention, also known as the Treaty of the Metre, is an international treaty that was signed in Paris on 20 May 1875 by representatives of 17 nations: Argentina, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Peru, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Norway, Switzerland, Ottoman Empire, United States of America, and Venezuela.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pound (mass)</span> Unit of mass

The pound or pound-mass is a unit of mass used in both the British imperial and United States customary systems of measurement. Various definitions have been used; the most common today is the international avoirdupois pound, which is legally defined as exactly 0.45359237 kilograms, and which is divided into 16 avoirdupois ounces. The international standard symbol for the avoirdupois pound is lb; an alternative symbol is lbm, #, and or ″̶.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">International System of Units</span> Modern form of the metric system

The International System of Units, internationally known by the abbreviation SI, is the modern form of the metric system and the world's most widely used system of measurement. Coordinated by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures it is the only system of measurement with an official status in nearly every country in the world, employed in science, technology, industry, and everyday commerce.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tonne</span> Metric unit of mass equivalent to 1,000 kilograms or 1 megagram

The tonne is a unit of mass equal to 1,000 kilograms. It is a non-SI unit accepted for use with SI. It is also referred to as a metric ton in the United States to distinguish it from the non-metric units of the short ton and the long ton. It is equivalent to approximately 2,204.6 pounds, 1.102 short tons, and 0.984 long tons. The official SI unit is the megagram (Mg), a less common way to express the same amount.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">United States customary units</span> System of units of measurement commonly used in the United States

United States customary units form a system of measurement units commonly used in the United States and most U.S. territories, since being standardized and adopted in 1832. The United States customary system developed from English units that were in use in the British Empire before the U.S. became an independent country. The United Kingdom's system of measures was overhauled in 1824 to create the imperial system, which was officially adopted in 1826, changing the definitions of some of its units. Consequently, while many U.S. units are essentially similar to their imperial counterparts, there are noticeable differences between the systems.

In measurement technology and metrology, calibration is the comparison of measurement values delivered by a device under test with those of a calibration standard of known accuracy. Such a standard could be another measurement device of known accuracy, a device generating the quantity to be measured such as a voltage, a sound tone, or a physical artifact, such as a meter ruler.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metrology</span> Science of measurement and its application

Metrology is the scientific study of measurement. It establishes a common understanding of units, crucial in linking human activities. Modern metrology has its roots in the French Revolution's political motivation to standardise units in France when a length standard taken from a natural source was proposed. This led to the creation of the decimal-based metric system in 1795, establishing a set of standards for other types of measurements. Several other countries adopted the metric system between 1795 and 1875; to ensure conformity between the countries, the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM) was established by the Metre Convention. This has evolved into the International System of Units (SI) as a result of a resolution at the 11th General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) in 1960.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gram</span> Metric unit of mass

The gram is a unit of mass in the International System of Units (SI) equal to one thousandth of a kilogram.

The Mendenhall Order marked a decision to change the fundamental standards of length and mass of the United States from the customary standards based on those of England to metric standards. It was issued on April 5, 1893, by Thomas Corwin Mendenhall, superintendent of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, with the approval of the United States Secretary of the Treasury, John Griffin Carlisle. The order was issued as the Survey's Bulletin No. 26 – Fundamental Standards of Length and Mass.

Dimensional metrology, also known as industrial metrology, is the application of metrology for quantifying the physical size, form (shape), characteristics, and relational distance from any given feature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Atomic clock</span> Extremely accurate clock

An atomic clock is a clock that measures time by monitoring the resonant frequency of atoms. It is based on atoms having different energy levels. Electron states in an atom are associated with different energy levels, and in transitions between such states they interact with a very specific frequency of electromagnetic radiation. This phenomenon serves as the basis for the International System of Units' (SI) definition of a second:

The second, symbol s, is the SI unit of time. It is defined by taking the fixed numerical value of the caesium frequency, , the unperturbed ground-state hyperfine transition frequency of the caesium-133 atom, to be 9192631770 when expressed in the unit Hz, which is equal to s−1.

The National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM) is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to developing the United States technical standards for weights and measures in commerce. The organization's official mission is "Ensuring Equity and Uniform Standards in a Changing Marketplace."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Standard (metrology)</span> Object, system, or experiment which relates to a unit of measurement of a physical quantity

In metrology, a standard is an object, system, or experiment that bears a defined relationship to a unit of measurement of a physical quantity. Standards are the fundamental reference for a system of weights and measures, against which all other measuring devices are compared. Historical standards for length, volume, and mass were defined by many different authorities, which resulted in confusion and inaccuracy of measurements. Modern measurements are defined in relationship to internationally standardized reference objects, which are used under carefully controlled laboratory conditions to define the units of length, mass, electrical potential, and other physical quantities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Imperial and US customary measurement systems</span> English (pre 1824), Imperial (post 1824) and US Customary (post 1776) units of measure

The imperial and US customary measurement systems are both derived from an earlier English system of measurement which in turn can be traced back to Ancient Roman units of measurement, and Carolingian and Saxon units of measure.


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