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Fundamental Electromagnetic Technologies and Standards


U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness rely on NIST to advance measurement science, standards, and technology to support U.S. communications, microelectronics, sensors, and manufacturing, as well as trusted and resilient supply chains for these areas.




This focus area develops theory, metrology, and standards for the technologies upon which the future of wireless communications depends. The work includes on-chip measurements of the transistors that generate wireless signals, the testing of free-field signals and the antennas that send and receive them, and the characterization of the integrated circuits that receive and process signals. CTL provides the fundamental measurements and measurement technologies for quantifiable properties of microwave electronics, the properties of electronic materials, advanced integrated-circuit testing, superconducting electronics, and emerging communication technologies, e.g., quantum networks and quantum computers, free-space optical communications

Projects and Programs:

Electromagnetic Traceability

  • Provision of traceability to the International System of Units (SI) through calibration services, standard reference materials, standard reference instruments, and best-practice guidance ensures the reliability of measurements worldwide by allowing them to be compared with established international standards with well-understood uncertainties.  Validated methodologies for measurements are required for the design, development, and deployment of advanced communications systems.  In addition to providing Calibration Services to the Nation for fundamental RF free field parameters underpinning all wireless communications the work advances the state of the art in free field metrology through the development of a new robotic antenna range, new robotic field strength measurement facility, advancing antenna theory, field sampling methods, and signal processing and Rydberg atom-based SI traceability.

Microwave Measurements for Materials and Electronics

  • Traceable measurements of microwave power are critical for the development and deployment of new and existing wireless communications systems. Work in this area involves the development and evaluation of traceable primary standards for microwave power, as well as transfer standards and measurement services for the dissemination of traceable power to the microwave and communications communities.

Over-the-Air Testing (OTA)

  • Fundamental measurement science to assess wireless device performance in the presence of distortion: including electronic distortion (e.g., nonlinearity) and environmental distortion (e.g., multipath) conducted OTA.  This includes the development of rigorous test methods/uncertainties appropriate for the wireless industry with repeatable, representative lab-based methods and standardized industry-appropriate, best-practice procedures, and traceability to fundamental physical standards, modulated communication signals conducted in lab and OTA conditions.

Quantum Traceability for Communications

  • Exploits the quantum behavior of superconducting Josephson junctions and materials to develop novel superconducting electronic devices, circuits, and systems to improve measurement techniques and standards for fundamental metrology, such as for dc and ac voltage, waveform synthesis, and primary thermometry, and for applications that require high-performance, such as energy-efficient advanced computing and RF communications. 

  • Rydberg states (highly excited) of atoms have been of growing interest in the past decade and have provided an avenue for making a variety of different sensors. This is possible since Rydberg states are highly sensitive to electric fields and depending on the Rydberg state used, allow for detecting fields ranging from DC to THz.  Great progress has been in the area of Rydberg atom-based sensors in recent year, mainly due to the efforts at NIST. Because of the success of this program, several groups around the world (including National Metrology Institutes, private companies, universities, and other government laboratories) have started programs in the area of Rydberg atom-based sensors.

Created December 30, 2021, Updated June 8, 2022