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Working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology

Research collaborations, funding, and facilities use

About NIST

researcher working in nanofab facility

The Nanofabrication Facility of NIST’s Advanced Measurement Laboratory, the most advanced research facility of its kind in the world.

© Robert Rathe

scientist studying fuel cell

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, homeland security, 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:

  • improve the quality and comparability of DNA microarrays—postage-stamp-sized devices that measure the activity of specific genes;
  • measure the efficiency and operation of non-polluting fuel cells for automobiles and optimize their performance; and
  • develop new atom-based reference materials to allow reliable fabrication of integrated circuits with features as small as 40 nanometers.

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, partners with over 1,300 manufacturing specialists and staff at more than 400 MEP service locations around the country.
  • Hundreds of individuals from companies and other organizations participate in selecting award recipients for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards, which are managed by NIST.
  • NIST hosts as many as 100 conferences, workshops, symposia, and other meetings annually attended by thousands of participants. Most are co-sponsored with other federal agencies, academic institutions, professional societies, or industry groups.

In addition, NIST jointly operates research organizations in four locations 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 at Boulder;

Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research, Rockville, Md., an interdisciplinary partnership in cutting-edge biotechnology between NIST and the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute;

Joint Quantum Institute, College Park, Md., a new institute for advancing quantum physics research that is jointly operated with the University of Maryland; 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.

Collaboration Methods

NIST collaborates with partners in a variety of ways designed 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 both its technical expertise and its designated user facilities.

Informal collaborations. 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). A CRADA is a formal partnering agreement that allows federal laboratories to work with U.S. companies, academia, and other organizations on joint 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. NIST regularly organizes research consortia on topics of interest to multiple organizations or industry sectors.

Guest Researcher Arrangements. The NIST Guest Researcher Program provides opportunities for technically qualified individuals to work at NIST with Institute staff on projects of mutual interest for periods ranging from a few months to several years. In many cases, a key benefit is access to NIST facilities and research tools. Research results produced by guest researchers—from universities, companies, or other organizations—while working at NIST are shared with the public. Guest researchers (or their home institutions) retain rights to inventions conceived while at NIST.

Use of Designated Facilities. NIST has several unique and valuable laboratory facilities available for use by U.S. organizations for both proprietary and non-proprietary research. Access to these designated 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. In addition, projects involving thousands of researchers from around the world depend on NIST’s 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 Nanofabrication Facility is a fee-based shared-use facility accessible through a straightforward proposal process designed to get users up and running in weeks (visit
shake gels image

NIST researchers collaborated with a food manufacturer, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Harvard University to model the detailed chemistry of “shake gels,” unusual new materials that thicken dramatically when shaken.

© Robert Rathe

Visit for additional information on collaboration methods.

Accessing NIST Research Results

NIST works to disseminate its research results as broadly as possible through peer reviewed research literature, technical reports, conference presentations, measurement standards, publicly accessible databases, public domain software, patent disclosures, and other methods. The following Web sites provide a wealth of NIST resources:

Collaborative Employment

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

  • The 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. A limited number of two-year term appointments are available. Applicants must be U.S. citizens.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)/ National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB)/NIST NRC Joint Postdoctoral Research Associateships Program—Provides five two-year awards for postdoctoral researchers emphasizing research at the interface of the biological and physical sciences. Work is done both at NIST and at NIH. Non-U.S. citizens are eligible.
woman researcher works on magnetic trap

NIST scientists are fabricating magnetic traps to improve manipulation and analysis of single strands of DNA or RNA. A patent application for the technique has been filed.

© Geoffrey Wheeler

For more information on these three programs, contact

  • Professional Research Experience Program (PREP) (Boulder)—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. For more information, contact or (303) 497-3319.
  • 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. For more information visit the following: 

NIST Funding Opportunities

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

  • Measurement, Science, and Engineering Research Grants Programs—Supports NIST laboratories with research in fields such as polymers, ceramics, metallurgy, fire research, neutron scattering and spectroscopy.
  • Precision Measurement Grants Program—Supports research on fundamental measurement or fundamental constants.
  • Nanoelectronics—Supports research and innovation in nanoelectronics through a partnership between NIST and the Semiconductor Research Corp.
  • Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program—Solicits research and development proposals from small businesses that respond to specific subtopics described in the annual solicitation.

For additional information on these and future grant opportunities, visit or

Frequently Requested NIST Contacts

General Inquiries
(301) 975-NIST

Technology Partnerships Office
(301) 975-3084

NIST Laboratories


Physical Measurement

Information Technology

Material Measurement

Center for Nanoscale Science Technology

NIST Center for Neutron Research


Major Programs

Smart Grid

Baldrige Performance Excellence Program
(301) 975-2036

Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership
(800) MEP-4MFG (for a center serving your area)

Law Enforcement Standards Office (OLES)


Other Contacts


Laboratory Accreditation

Metric Program

Small Business Innovation Research Program

Standard Reference Data

Standard Reference Materials

National Center for Standards and Certification Information

Weights and Measures

Acquisition Management Division

Postdoctoral Research Associateships

Reimbursable Agreements Coordination Office (RACO)