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Physics research at NIST includes everything from improving the safety of medical radiation procedures to developing future "quantum information" technologies that generate unbreakable codes. NIST provides the measurements, standards, and technical expertise scientists and industries need to push the limits of the fundamental properties of nature.


Gray cylinder two inches in diameter, held in gloved fingers
Credit: NIST

A small role can make an astronomical impact, as is the case for a tiny NIST-built piece of a new planet-hunting project from NASA and the National Science Foundation. In the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, an ultraprecise spectrograph at the WIYN Observatory is starting the search for exoplanets (planets outside of our solar system) that could be habitable. The gravitational pull from a planet orbiting a star makes that star wobble slightly, which shifts the color of light that the star emits. Scientists plan to use a visible light spectrograph called NEID to track that shifting.

Enter NIST. We provided an astro-etalon that the astronomers can use as a reliable reference for their measurements of light. Unlike a frequency comb, which actively emits multiple colors of light, an etalon takes a more passive approach by filtering light with a cavity that allows only certain colors to pass through. It is simple, easy to manage and can identify more colors of light than a laser frequency comb, making it a critical part of the NEID calibration suite. That said, it’s a cylinder only two inches in diameter, housed in a metal box that keeps it in vacuum and at a stable temperature. That’s one small piece for a telescope, one giant leap for astronomy.

Find out more about frequency comb technology and how it fits into our exploration of the cosmos:

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The History and Future of Quantum Information

History of Quantum Hero Image

When two good things get together, they can create something even better. That’s the case with quantum information—the marriage of quantum physics and computing theory. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has contributed to much of its history and is helping to shape its future. Read more.

NIST and the Nobel

Nobel Site Banner Cropped
Four NIST researchers have won a Nobel Prize in Physics for their work while at NIST: Bill Phillips (1997), Eric Cornell (2001), Jan Hall (2005) and Dave Wineland (2012).

Learn more about the NIST laureates and their work.

News and Updates

Industry Impacts

High-Power Lasers for Manufacturing 

Measuring the intensity of high-power lasers used by manufacturers for precision cutting and welding can be difficult due to large instrumentation challenges

Time and Synchronization

In our increasingly connected modern economy, the IT services we rely on are built on the synchronization of clocks. For many functions, devices must agree on

Massive Forces for Heavy Industry

Measuring large forces, such as the thrust of a rocket engine or the deflection of an aircraft wing, requires well-calibrated force sensors. NIST’s unique

Projects and Programs


The Next Generation of Current Measurement for Ionization Chambers

Ryan P. Fitzgerald, Denis E. Bergeron, Dean G. Jarrett, Neil M. Zimmerman, Carine Michotte, Hansjoerg Scherer, Stephen Giblin, Steven Judge
Re-entrant ionization chambers (ICs) are essential to radionuclide metrology and nuclear medicine for maintaining standards and measuring half-lives. Metrology


Jacob Taylor Elected OSA Fellow

Optical Society of America (OSA) members who have served with distinction in the advancement of optics may be proposed for election to the...

2019 Van Duzer Prize

The Van Duzer Prize, awarded to the best-contributed paper published in IEEE Transactions on Applied Superconductivity during each volume...