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James Olthoff

Dr. Olthoff joined the Applied Electrical Measurements Group at NIST (then the National Bureau of Standards) as a Research Physicist in 1987. In 2014 he was named Director of the Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML) after having served four years as PML's Deputy Director for Measurement Services.

As Director of PML, Dr. Olthoff is responsible for the maintenance, development, and dissemination of the U.S. national measurement standards. He also manages the full suite of NIST calibration services in dimensional, electromagnetic, ionizing radiation, mechanical, optical, thermodynamic, and time and frequency metrology.

Prior to his appointment to PML, Dr. Olthoff served as Deputy Laboratory Director of NIST's Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory (2007-2010), Division Chief of Quantum Electrical Metrology Division (2003-2007), Division Chief of the Electricity Division (2000-2003), and in several supervisory and research positions.

Olthoff received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Maryland in 1985 in the area of atomic, molecular and optical physics. He then held a two-year appointment at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine before arriving at NIST.

In addition to his extensive management experience at NIST, Dr. Olthoff has authored or co-authored more than 120 publications and has co-authored or edited four books. During the period of his research, he had the highest citation record of the NIST Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory. His production of assessed electron interaction data for the semiconductor industry was published as the first Standard Reference Data set of EEEL, and formed the basis of the 775-page book he co-authored entitled Fundamental Electron Interactions with Plasma Processing Gases. It remains the definitive book on electron interactions with this class of industrial gases.

Some of his specific research areas included:

  • Measurements of toxic by-products of high-voltage power systems
  • Comprehensive measurement and assessment of fundamental cross sections for electron and ion interactions relevant to electrical discharges
  • Applications of mass spectrometry to analysis of reactive ions in low density plasmas

More recently, Dr. Olthoff has filled high-profile positions representing NIST and the United States within the international metrology community. Dr. Olthoff's international metrology responsibilities have included serving as the Chair of the Sistema Interamericano de Metrologia (SIM) Quality System Task Force (QSTF), representing SIM on the Joint Committee of the Regional Metrology Organizations (JCRB), serving as the Chair of the Conference on Precision Electromagnetic Measurements, representing NIST on the CIPM Consultative Committee on Electricity and Magnetism, and representing the U.S. on the SIM Council and General Assembly. Dr. Olthoff serves as the NIST representative to the Board of the NCSL International, and has recently been elected as the Executive Vice President of NCSL International.

James Olthoff


Physical Measurement Laboratory

Phone: 301-975-2220
Email: james.olthoff@nist.gov