People and Facilities
The Material Measurement Laboratory is one of two metrology laboratories within the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The laboratory supports the NIST mission by serving as the national reference laboratory for measurements in the chemical, biological and material sciences. Our activities range from fundamental and applied research on the composition, structure and properties of industrial, biological and environmental materials and processes, to the development and dissemination of tools including reference measurement procedures, certified reference materials, critically evaluated data, and best practice guides that help assure measurement quality. Our research and measurement services support areas of national importance, such as:
- Advanced materials, from nanomaterials to structural steels to complex fluids
- Energy, from characterization and performance of fossil and alternative fuels to next-generation renewable sources of energy
- The environment, from the measurement of automotive exhaust emissions and other pollutants to assessment of climate change and the health and safety aspects of man-made nanomaterials
- Food safety and nutrition, from contaminant monitoring to ensuring the accuracy of nutrition labels
- Health care, from clinical diagnostics to tissue engineering and more efficient manufacturing of biologic drugs
- Infrastructure, from assessing the country's aging bridges and pipelines to the quality of our drinking water
- Manufacturing, from lightweight alloys for fuel-efficient automobiles to biomanufacturing, advanced electronics, and data for chemical manufacturing
- Safety, security and forensics, from gunshot and explosive residue detection, to ensuring the performance of body armor materials, to DNA-based human identity testing
The Material Measurement Laboratory also coordinates the NIST-wide Standard Reference Materials® (SRM) and Standard Reference Data programs, which include production, documentation, inventory, marketing, distribution and customer service.
The Material Measurement Laboratory comprises the divisions:
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The research and measurement services provided by the Material Measurement Laboratory underpin measurements in the chemical, biological and material sciences and support innovation in both mature and emerging industrial sectors. As examples, our work to enable reliable and trustworthy measurements and data help
- Physicians make more accurate diagnoses and better monitor the effectiveness of therapeutic regimens
- Policy makers and regulatory bodies make science-based decisions about environmental quality and potential threats to the environment
- Forensic investigators make decisions based on scientifically sound evidence, such as DNA-based identity tests and gunshot and explosive residue analyses
- Trading partners confidently and fairly exchange commodities such as foods, fuels, structural steel and other materials
- Manufacturers reliably develop and use advanced materials and processes
- Industry link the performance of materials with their structure and processing, concepts necessary for the design of products from coatings and composites to magnetic devices and sensors
We shape our programs based on national needs with input from industry and government. Our research base provides us with the flexibility to respond to the country's priorities and rapid advances in science and technology. Our success depends upon timely dissemination of our:
Some recent examples of our work include
- A New Standard Reference Material® for Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency has long been associated with osteoporosis and an increased risk of bone fractures, and has recently been linked to increased risk of other common diseases. While clinical labs perform hundreds of thousands of vitamin D tests each year, studies have shown that different labs can provide different measurement results from the same samples. In a widely reported case in 2009, the nation's largest medical laboratory acknowledged that they had provided potentially inaccurate results to thousands of people over the preceding two years. NIST scientists developed an SRM, "Vitamin D in Human Serum," to provide a foundation for the accuracy of vitamin D measurements made in medical laboratories and to reduce variability among labs.
- A New Standard Reference Material® for Cytomegalovirus: Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is in the herpes virus family and is estimated to affect 80 percent of the U.S. population. While most people with CMV don't have an obvious illness, it is considered life threatening for patients with compromised immune systems and therefore requires testing to determine when to begin treatment, and what level, and for how long. This SRM will help clinical laboratories assess the amount of CMV a patient is carrying.
- Supporting the Safe Use of Engineered Nanomaterials: Engineered nanomaterials, those made purposefully by humans, have special properties resulting from their extremely small size. They are used in more than 1,000 consumer products, such as strong-yet-light tennis rackets and stain-resistant clothing. Future nanomaterial products are expected to provide cleaner sources of energy, less-invasive cancer treatments, and smarter electronics. The full benefits of nanomaterial products may never be realized, however, due to growing concerns about their potential hazards to humans and the environment. To assess the safety of engineered nanomaterials, we must first know their size. In response to this need, NIST has developed gold nanoparticle reference materials for accurate size measurements. NIST is also developing size standards for carbon nanotubes, and silver and titanium dioxide nanoparticles, the three engineered nanomaterials in most widespread use.
- Reliable Data to Support Critical Decisions: Standard Reference Databases provide carefully evaluated collections of data for a wide variety of substances. They help people make decisions based on reliable information. For example, the NIST ThermoData Standard Reference Database of the properties of more than 20,000 chemical compounds, 44,000 mixtures, and 6,000 reactions helps to ensure safety, quality and efficiency in thousands of chemical plants around the world. Plant operators use a computer program that relies on NIST data to predict the behavior of chemicals under various conditions. Another database, the Mass Spectral Library, contains hundreds of thousands of "signatures" of molecules. This enables the highly sensitive and discriminating identification of the molecular components in diverse complex mixtures of concern to the fields of health science, pollution monitoring, food safety and homeland security. NIST also provides crystallographic databases that provide the precise atomic arrangements for hundreds of thousands of nonorganic materials. These enable rapid, automated, and nondestructive identification of materials used in components and devices in a wide range of technology sectors including health care, communications, energy and electronics.
- Quality Control for Steel: A metallurgist may develop a stronger form of steel in the lab, but before the material can be used to construct bridges and buildings, we must understand how much force it can withstand before fracturing. While engineers commonly rely on the Charpy impact test, the results are not useful if different laboratories produce different results from the same samples of steel. Our Charpy Program of Standard Reference Materials® helps standardize steel impact tests. Manufacturers use our standards to verify that their measurement machines work as they should, so that each piece of steel is accurately evaluated to ensure it meets design requirements.
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People and Facilities
The Material Measurement Laboratory is home to more than 900 staff members and visiting scientists at five locations:
- NIST main campus in Gaithersburg, MD
- NIST Boulder Laboratories in Boulder, CO
- Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston, SC , where NIST staff work side-by-side with scientists from NOAA, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the College of Charleston, and the Medical University of South Carolina to provide the science, biotechnology and standards needed to understand links between environmental conditions and the health of marine organisms and humans
- Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research in Rockville, MD, where scientists from NIST, the University of Maryland College Park, and the University of Maryland School of Medicine conduct research on measurement science and standards issues associated with advanced therapeutics
- Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY where, in partnership with the Department of Energy, the laboratory has a user facility that enables researchers from industry, academic and other government agencies to apply synchrotron-based x-ray spectroscopy techniques to the development of products like oil additives and next-generation electronics
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