Radio stations could reach their audiences with a clearer signal after NIST established a standard of frequency and began broadcasting precise frequency signals in 1923. NIST frequency services continue to serve radio and television stations, power and telephone companies, the financial community, and others.
Aerospace, medicine, and manufacturing are among the beneficiaries of NIST's century of research on cryogenics, a branch of physics dealing with the production and effects of very low temperatures. For instance, in 1931, NIST produced America's first liquefied helium, the coolant later used in magnetic resonance imaging.
Financial services, telecommunications companies, and hardware and software products rely heavily on the data encryption standard issued by NIST in 1977, the first publicly available standard of this type and the first cryptographic algorithm endorsed by the federal government. Today, NIST is coordinating the development of a more powerful successor standard.
The semiconductor industry has saved millions of dollars annually and improved product quality thanks to the increasingly tiny "rulers" that NIST provides for measuring the widths of integrated circuit features. NIST issued its first photomask linewidth standard in 1979 and is currently developing new measurement approaches, such as direct counting of atoms.
U.S. companies compete in a fair marketplace today in part because of NIST, which convened the first meeting of state weights and measures officials in 1905. Accuracy and uniformity in weights and measures have improved considerably over the past century, and NIST continues to support the National Conference on Weights and Measures.
Small manufacturing firms gained an important advantage in 1996, when NIST's Manufacturing Extension Partnership reached its goal of completing a nationwide network, enabling all of the more than 361,000 small manufacturers in the 50 states and Puerto Rico to gain access to MEP assistance centers. MEP services have been boosting smaller companies' competitiveness since 1989.
The air conditioning and refrigeration industry has saved millions of dollars thanks to a computer standard reference database of the thermophysical properties of alternative refrigerants (i.e., alternatives to ozone-depleting compounds), introduced by NIST in 1989. NIST has provided industry with refrigerant property data for more than 50 years.
The emerging field of "DNA chips"—miniaturized laboratories that quickly analyze the genetic makeup of blood or tissue samples and are expected to revolutionize medicine—is among the new industries nurtured by NIST funding and research. Other U.S. industries launched in part with NIST assistance include optical glass and synthetic rubber.
Companies that sell bullet-resistant armor to law enforcement agencies and military forces worldwide rely on NIST's standard for ballistic resistance of police body armor, one of more than a dozen law enforcement standards issued by the Institute since the early 1970s. Not a single police officer wearing body armor made to these specifications has been killed by penetration or blunt trauma. NIST has been involved in forensic work since the early 1900s.
Since it began in 1987, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award program has helped thousands of organizations improve their overall performance. In a survey, CEOs said the Baldrige program was extremely or very valuable in stimulating quality improvements (79 percent) and competitiveness (67 percent). The Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence has been called the "single most influential document in the modern history of American business."
The once-troubled $7 billion U.S. printed wiring board industry, with its 200,000 jobs, was saved by a research project co-funded by NIST's Advanced Technology Program. According to a 1997 study, the joint venture led to dramatic efficiencies in research and development, accelerated research, and produced significant technological advances.
In 1999, over 23,000 firms took advantage of NIST's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) services. In a survey of MEP clients served in the last three quarters of FY 1999, 2,942 companies reported that, as a result of NIST MEP services, they increased or retained $1.4 billion in sales, realized $364 million in cost savings, and created or retained 18,153 jobs.
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