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.

Sensors

Overview

By their very definition, sensors are devices that measure or detect things such as light, heat and electric current. That’s why NIST, as the nation’s measurement science institute, has been in the sensor business since its earliest years. NIST has continually developed ever-more-accurate measurement devices based on various forms of light, special materials, and quantum phenomena such as superconductivity for a broad range of applications, from aviation to medicine to communications.

These sensors measure all kinds of quantities such as time, distance, mass, temperature, voltage, and fluid volume and flow. Many of the latest NIST sensors are ultra-compact and use very little power. 

Examples of NIST sensors include:

  • Clocks based on the behavior of atoms in a tiny glass container on a chip. 
  • Frequency combs—"rulers of light”—acting like gears to convert high-frequency signals to readable levels. 
  • Thermometers based on tracking how heat changes the way light travels through tiny channels. 
  • Microwave radiation methods that measure properties of complex fluids containing cells, DNA, proteins and other biological materials. 
  • Techniques to measure tiny masses and forces based on pressure exerted by a laser beam reflecting from a mirror. 
  • Radiation detectors in ID cards that work by sensing how atoms change their behavior. 
  • New kinds of acceleration sensors to back up navigation systems for aircraft. 
  • Voltage standards for developing and testing communications signals and devices.

The Research

Projects & Programs

Novel Devices

Ongoing
Emerging devices such as parametric amplifiers can provide new capabilities for cryogenic sensor systems. The Quantum Sensors Group is studying a range of new

Additional Resources Links

News

Brian Weiss overseeing his robot's operation

Operation Tech Transfer

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a world-class research organization. We have phenomenal scientists and engineers with impeccable research credentials. Our researchers are experts in a range of fields including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, fire, forensics, infrastructure, manufacturing and public safety. They are constantly pushing the boundaries of
Two monitors side by side show waves on the left and waving researchers on the right.

Watch NIST’s ‘Atomic Television’ Live and in Color

test mass

Calibrating the Universe: Behind the Scenes, NIST Scientists Play a Critical Role in Improving Gravitational Wave Measurements

seeing around corners illustration

Out of the Shadows: New Imaging Method Reveals Concealed Objects

Greenhouse Gas Measurements

NIST Greenhouse Gas Measurement Program
NIST Greenhouse Gas Measurement Program
NIST’s Greenhouse Gas Measurements Program develops advanced tools for accurately measuring emissions so industries and governments will have the information they need to manage emissions effectively.