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Working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology

About NIST

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The NIST NanoFab is a shared-use facility that gives researchers economical access to and training on a state-of-the-art tool set for cutting-edge nanotechnology development.

© Robert Rathe

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Projects involving some 2,000 researchers from around the world depend on the world-class NIST Center for Neutron Research, one of several designated user facilities available for proprietary and non-proprietary research.

© Robert Rathe

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is an unusual federal agency. Its mission is broad—to 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.

An essential part of NIST’s work is to anticipate the future. Fast-moving sectors such as nanotechnology, quantum information science, forensics, information technology, and advanced manufacturing need sophisticated technical support systems to flourish and grow. NIST provides that support by continually improving the U.S. measurement system, developing new technologies, fostering standards, and providing both the business and technical evaluation tools needed to produce quality products and organizations.

Recent NIST projects have included efforts to:

  • engineer carbon nanotubes to dismantle the molecules of a major class of chemical weapons;
  • triple the accuracy of the U.S. official time standard with the release of the NIST F-2 atomic fountain clock; and
  • improve standards and codes in order to create more disaster-resilient buildings.


Partnering with NIST

To help accomplish its mission, NIST seeks out high-quality partnerships, collaborations, and other interactions with U.S. companies, universities, and agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.

Each year:

  • NIST hosts about 2,700 associates and facility users who work with about 3,000 NIST staff members at two main campuses in Gaithersburg, Md., and Boulder, Colo.
  • NIST, through the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, works with over 1,300 manufacturing specialists and staff at more than 400 MEP service locations around the country to help small and mid-size manufacturers improve and grow.
  • Hundreds of individuals from companies and other organizations participate in selecting award recipients for the NIST-managed Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards.
  • NIST hosts as many as 100 conferences, workshops, symposia, and other meetings annually. Most are co-sponsored with other federal agencies, academic institutions, professional societies, or industry groups.

In addition, NIST jointly operates research organizations explicitly established to promote the kind of cross-disciplinary collaborations that accelerate research results:

  • JILA, Boulder, Colo., a world-class physics research institute jointly operated by NIST and the University of Colorado Boulder;
  • Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research, Rockville, Md., an interdisciplinary partnership in cutting-edge biotechnology between NIST and the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore;
  • Joint Quantum Institute, College Park, Md., a quantum physics research institute jointly operated with the University of Maryland, College Park; and
  • Hollings Marine Laboratory, Charleston, S.C., a national center for coastal ocean science, in which NIST is one of five federal, state, and university partners.
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NIST's Applied Genetics Group is focused on developing standards and technology to aid human, plant, and animal identification using genetic information.

© Robert Rathe

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NIST chemists evaluate the test methods and materials that ensure the reliability and performance of instruments used to detect trace explosives at security checkpoints.

© Robert Rathe

Ways to Collaborate

NIST collaborates with partners to meet a broad spectrum of needs. A key principle of the process is that both NIST and its partner benefit from the relationship. NIST provides fair and equitable access to its technical expertise and its designated user facilities.

NIST researchers frequently collaborate informally with researchers at other organizations. These collaborations often result in joint peer-reviewed papers, short-term visits or tours of NIST laboratories, and sharing of research methods.

Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) are formal partnerships between federal laboratories and U.S. companies, academic institutions, and other organizations to work on research and development projects. The CRADA provides flexibility in structuring project contributions and intellectual property rights and in protecting research results developed during the collaboration.

The NIST Guest Researcher Program provides opportunities to work at NIST on projects of mutual interest for periods ranging from a few months to several years. Research results produced by guest researchers—from universities, companies, or other organizations—while working at NIST are public. Guest researchers (or their home institutions) retain rights to inventions conceived while at NIST.

NIST has several designated user facilities available for both proprietary and non-proprietary research. Access to these facilities is generally provided on a first-come, first-served cost-reimbursable basis. Examples include facilities for gamma-ray sources, small-angle X-ray scattering, nanotechnology, nitrogen flow measurements, heat release calorimetry, and neutron radiography.

Projects involving thousands of researchers from around the world depend on access to the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) and the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST).

  • Access to the NCNR for non-proprietary research is provided at no cost through a peer-review process. Proprietary research can be performed with full cost recovery.
  • The CNST Nanofab is a fee-based shared-use facility accessible through a straightforward proposal process designed to get users up and running in weeks.
The National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE) collaborates with user communities and vendors and integrators of commercially available technologies to build practical cybersecurity reference designs that can be rapidly applied to the real challenges that businesses face each day. Qualified companies have the opportunity to form a long-term relationship with NCCoE though the National Cybersecurity Excellence Partnership (NCEP).

(Note: The NCCoE is not part of the NIST Centers of Excellence program.)

The NIST Centers of Excellence program seeks to provide an interdisciplinary environment where researchers from NIST, academia and industry will collaborate on emerging areas of basic and applied research and innovations in measurement science.

The first of these centers, the Advanced Materials Center of Excellence, is designed to accelerate materials discovery and development; provide opportunities to transition new breakthroughs in advanced materials to industry; convene multidisciplinary and multi-sector communities for in-depth discussions; and provide training opportunities for scientists and engineers in materials metrology.

Additional Centers of Excellence focused on other emerging and innovative fields of research are expected to be announced in FY2014. 

The Materials Genome Initiative (MGI) seeks to reduce the cost and development time of materials discovery, optimization, and deployment. The MGI works with stakeholders in industry, academia, and government to develop the standards, tools and techniques enabling acquisition, representation, and discovery of materials data; interoperability of computer simulations of materials phenomena across multiple length and time scales; and the quality assessment of materials data, models, and simulations.

The Genome in a Bottle Consortium, comprising federal, industry, and academic labs, is working to develop the reference materials, reference data, and reference methods needed to assess the performance of human genome sequencing.

The NIST Center for Automotive Lightweighting, an effort to help the U.S. automotive industry transition to new advanced and lightweight materials more easily, welcomes collaborations with industrial, academic and national lab organizations that make use of the center’s unique experimental capabilities.

Accessing NIST Research Results

NIST works to disseminate its research results as broadly as possible through peer-reviewed research journals, technical reports, conference presentations, measurement standards, public databases and software, patent disclosures, and other methods:

Collaborative Employment

A number of post-doctoral opportunities are available at NIST, including:

NIST-National Research Council (NRC) Postdoctoral Research Associateships Program—Identifies and recruits world-class postdoctoral scientists and engineers to work at NIST on research in fields including chemistry, physics, materials science, mathematics, computer science, and engineering. 

National Institutes of Health (NIH)/ National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB)/NIST NRC Joint Postdoctoral Research Associateships Program—Provides awards for postdoctoral researchers emphasizing research at the interface of the biological and physical sciences. Work is done both at NIST and at NIH.

Professional Research Experience Program (PREP)—Provides laboratory experience and financial assistance to qualified undergraduates, graduates, and postgraduates. Postdocs from any university are welcome to apply and are brought into the program through the University of Colorado.

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program—A NIST/National Science Foundation partnership that teams outstanding undergraduate students with NIST mentors on cutting-edge research projects. Positions are available at both the NIST Gaithersburg and Boulder campuses.

Lightweighting Lab

The use of lightweight materials in vehicles will increase fuel efficiency and cut emissions, but the auto industry lacks the information they need to reliably manufacture components from them. Researchers at the NIST Center for Automotive Lightweighting are working to provide the next-generation measurements and models the auto industry needs to incorporate these materials into their vehicles.

© Robert Rathe

NIST Dexterous Manipulation Testbed

The NIST Dexterous Manipulation Testbed features a seven degree-of-freedom highly dexterous robot and a seven degree-of-freedom, three fingered robotic hand. The testbed is used to investigate new measurement science to gauge the operational characteristics of manipulation for manufacturing tasks.

Credit: Falco/NIST

NIST Funding Opportunities

NIST also provides extramural research funding through competitive grants. Some examples:

NIST has also launched the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) Program, a competitive grants program intended to establish new or strengthen existing industry-driven consortia that address high-priority research challenges impeding the growth of advanced manufacturing in the United States. The AMTech program funds broad participation across the value-chain including companies of all sizes, universities and government agencies. 

In the future, AMTech anticipates it will also offer competitive project grants to industry-driven technology consortia that will fund basic and applied research directed at meeting the “long-term, pre-competitive” industry research needs identified in AMTech-supported technology roadmaps or other planning efforts.