Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

New NIST Licensing Opportunity Teems with Potential Applications

Max Planck, one of the Twentieth Century’s most eminent physicists, observed, "An experiment is a question that science poses to Nature, and a measurement is the recording of Nature’s answer.” 

The mission of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is to meet peoples’ needs and improve their lives through measurement science. Each day hundreds of NIST scientists and engineers pursue innovative approaches to determining measurements. NIST and the scientists then patent the inventions resulting from the research.

Large and small businesses and scientific organizations can bring these inventions to the marketplace for society’s benefit and prosperity. They do this by directly licensing NIST technology or working with NIST under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA).

An exceptionally versatile and promising NIST technology now available for patent licensing or a CRADA is the “Atomic Magnetometer and method of sensing of magnetic fields.” It has applications in medicine and healthcare, defense, navigation, CubeSats research spacecraft, and oil and underground minerals exploration and surveying.

The technology was invented by a team of physicists composed of John Kitching, Svenja Knappe, Jan Preusser, and Vladislav Gerginov, who worked in NIST’s Physical Measurement Laboratory’s Atomic Devices and Instrumentation Group. The technology was developed over ten years and was issued patent number 8,334,690.

An information sheet summarizing the potential of this invention’s amazing range of applications can be found here.

Atomic magnetometers detect the presence and strength of magnetic fields through optical probing of atoms in the vapor phase. The measurement of weak magnetic fields produced by the human heart and brain is one of the primary uses of this technology.  And the NIST Atomic Magnetometer’s innovative technology results in more accurate brain function studies using magnetoencephalography (MEG) diagnostics for treating autism, dyslexia, epilepsy, schizophrenia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder  (ADHD).

The NIST Atomic Magnetometer reduces the size, power usage, and manufacturing costs that are features of older atomic magnetometers.

Atomic magnetometers do not involve the application of electrodes to patients’ bodies, and the magnetic signals may have a richer information content than the electrical signals captured by older technology.

Most atomic magnetometers must be heated to very high temperatures to function at their highest sensitivity levels.  This heating is usually done by passing a current through a metallic component near the sensor head, but that current can create magnetic fields.  Even the presence of metal near the sensor can cause magnetic “noise” that can interfere with the measurement.

The “Atomic Magnetometer and method of sensing of magnetic fields” patent designs a novel type of laser-pumped atomic magnetometer that avoids using metallic elements anywhere near its sensor head.

As the information sheet referenced above says, multiple applications abound for this better, faster, and more efficient technology.

To receive more details and have your questions answered, e-mail the NIST Technology Partnerships Office at the address found here: tpo [at] (TPO[at]NIST[dot]GOV).



Released July 5, 2023, Updated July 13, 2023