a look around. Chances are no matter where you are there
is something near you that researchers at the National Institute
of Standards and Technology have studied, measured, or improved
at one time or another.
mobile phones, roads, furniture, CD players, shoes, houses,
trees, even the water we drink and the air we breathe. NIST
has studied and measured them all and countless other things
we value in our everyday lives.
is one of the nations oldest and largest science and
technology laboratories. The U.S. Congress created NIST
about 100 years ago. Back in 1901 life was very different
than it is now. There were as many as eight different standard
gallons. Brooklyn, N.Y., had four different legal measures
of the foot. About 50 percent of scales in grocery
stores were wrong, and many shopkeepers used scales that
they knew cheated their customers.
a gallon of milk bought in California is the same size as
a gallon of milk in Vermont. A pound
of beef is exactly a pound whether youre in Denver
or Dallas. Your family car or your school bus has more than
15,000 different parts, but somehow they all fit together
parts fit together just right because during the last 100
years, NIST researchers in Gaithersburg, Md., and Boulder,
Colo., have been working with other agencies from all over
the world to make sure we have the best measurement system
possible. During the last 10 years, Congress has given NIST
important additional jobs like helping companies and other
organizations create new technologies or improve the quality
of their products and the way they run their businesses.
it is NISTs measurement mission that literally affects
everyone every day. What exactly is a measuring system?
It is a way to answer questions like: How big is it? How
much does it weigh? How much time does it take?
times past, people created lots of different ways to measure
things. The first measurement systems were based on parts
of the body. The inch was the width of a mans thumb.
A yard was the distance around his waist. The problem with
these measurement tools was that they varied from place
to place and from person to person.
the modern products we take for granted like computers,
video games, mobile phones, and DVD players depend on having
one very precise, very reliable measuring system that everyone
has agreed to use.
we do mean EVERYONE. Just about the whole world bases its
measurements on the International System of Units (commonly
called the metric system). But wait, you say,
the United States still uses inches, pounds, and miles.
True. But in 1875, the United States also signed the Treaty of the
Meter that established the International Bureau of Weights
and Measures in France. Through this treaty, the U.S. agreed
that all of its measures will be based on international
standards like the kilogram, meter, second, and the liter.
creates and maintains all the U.S. primary standards needed
to measure just about anything you can imagine. Primary
standards are the master rulers that all other
rulers are measured against. In todays
high-tech society, you need lots of different kinds of rulers
or ways to measure thingsthings like length, time,
temperature, light intensity, pressure, volume, hardness,
particle size, flow rates, X-ray doses, electric current,
angles, chemical amounts, and magnetic forces.
watch is always right because the NIST radio station near
Ft. Collins, Colo., sends out a time signal so strong it
can be received by special watches and clocks like mine
from Miami to Seattle.
the next time youre reading the ingredients on the
side of a cereal box you should think of NIST. NIST standards
help food processors measure food components more accurately.
The light bulbs that help you read the label were measured
using standards that rely on a NIST master light standard.
The electricity for the light bulb is measured based on
NIST electric current standards. Your carton of milk was
filled based on a NIST standard for measuring volume. The
refrigerator that chilled the milk was tested with a NIST
method that helps consumers tell which appliances use energy
most efficiently. And the clock that told you to hurry up
with breakfast before you were late for school was set based
on the official NIST time and NISTs atomic clocka
clock so accurate it would have to run for 70 million years
before it would be wrong by even one second.
we said at the start, NIST connections are all around you.
You just have to know where to look.
May 8, 2001
Last updated: Sept. 10, 2006