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Consumer Impacts

Consumers can trust the weight or volume given on food labels thanks in large part to NIST, which convened the first meeting of state weights and measures officials in 1905. NIST's work to ensure fairness in the marketplace continues today through activities such as support of the National Conference on Weights and Measures.

Patients receive accurate radiation doses in disease diagnosis and treatment today thanks to NIST radiation measurement and standards activities under way since the 1970s. NIST's contributions to the safe medical use of radiation began many years ago and included efforts to help bring about the 1931 X-ray safety code, which set guidelines for protective devices for patients and operators.

From the Global Positioning System to stock exchanges, many modern technological systems depend on the precise synchronization made possible by highly accurate atomic clocks, the first of which (based on the ammonia molecule) was operated by NIST in 1949. NIST's latest atomic clock neither gains nor loses a second in nearly 20 million years.

A visit to the dentist is much more pleasant today than it was years ago because of NIST's ongoing research collaboration with the American Dental Association. This work has led to innovations such as the hydraulic turbine dental handpiece in 1953, the forerunner of today's high-speed drills; the panoramic X-ray machine; composite filling materials; and dental adhesives.

Analyses of blood cholesterol levels, "DNA fingerprinting," and other laboratory tests are more accurate and reliable thanks to NIST's Standard Reference Materials (SRMs)—artifacts with certifiable measurements or properties—for clinical applications, the first of which was produced in 1967. NIST now produces and sells about 35,000 units of clinical and other SRMs annually.

Bridges, hotels, and other structures are safer today because of NIST's investigations of structural failures, including the 1967 collapse of the Point Pleasant Bridge linking West Virginia to Ohio and the 1981 collapse of walkways in Kansas City's Hyatt Regency Hotel. Such investigations have led to changes in designs, materials, and procedures that enhance safety.

Withdrawals from automated teller machines are among the billions of dollars worth of electronic data transactions that have been secured for many years with the first publicly available data encryption standard, issued by NIST in 1977. NIST is currently coordinating the development of a more powerful successor standard.

The U.S. death rate from fires declined by 50 percent between the early 1970s and late 1990s, in large part because smoke detectors are now installed in more than 95 percent of homes. NIST made this improvement possible by developing, with Underwriters Laboratories' participation, the first fire performance standard for smoke detectors and recommendations on number, type, and placement.

Notice of Online Archive: This page is no longer being updated and remains online for informational and historical purposes only. The information is accurate as of 2001. For questions about page contents, please inquiries [at] nist.gov (contact us).
Created July 22, 2013, Updated March 26, 2019