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old NIST campus

NIST’s original campus stood at the intersection of Connecticut Ave. and Van Ness in Washington, D.C.

NIST Founded

March 03, 1901

Heeding the call from the nation’s scientists and industrialists to establish an authoritative domestic measurement and standards laboratory, the U.S. Congress founded NIST on March 3, 1901. The fledgling agency quickly assembled standards for electricity, length and mass, temperature, light, and time, and created a system to transfer those values to the public.

Director Stratton
NIST’s founding noted in the March 11, 1901, edition of the Washington, D.C., newspaper The Evening Star.

First Director: Samuel W. Stratton

March 03, 1901

Founding director Dr. Samuel Wesley Stratton was in many ways the father of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Stratton’s impassioned arguments for the establishment of a national standards laboratory won over a reluctant Congress, which also appointed him as its first director, a position he held for 21 years. An engaged leader, Stratton’s vision has had a profound and lasting influence on NIST’s mission.

Neon Signs

Nutting’s signs spelled out the elements they used for illumination.

Neon sign lights up World’s Fair

April 30, 1904

NIST's Perley G. Nutting showed off the first "neon" signs lit by electrified gasses at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. More a novelty resulting from his gas spectra work than the subject of serious research, neon signs would not become a commercial technology for another 26 years.

measures for the marketplace

Seattle weights and measures inspectors with confiscated fraudulent measuring devices.

Measures for the marketplace

January 16, 1905

At the turn of the 20th century, uncertainty plagued U.S. markets. There were at least eight different gallons and four different feet in use, and inspectors were often poorly trained and working with outmoded equipment. NIST convened the first National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM) to write model laws, distribute uniform standards, and provide training for inspectors, which resulted in a more orderly and fair marketplace.

First Standard Reference Material
NIST produced its first standard sample when the American Foundrymen’s Association requested standardized iron for its member industries.

First Standard Reference Material

January 01, 1906

The American Foundrymen’s Association was the first industry group to turn over the task of producing samples of standardized iron for its member industries to NIST in 1905. Before long, NIST was producing standard samples, now called standard reference materials (SRMs), for hundreds of products and materials. Today, NIST produces more than 1,300 different types of SRMs and sells more than 30,000 units every year.

Putting rail scales back on track

Putting rail scales back on track

January 01, 1913

Errors in the weighing of rail freight could be costly, so NIST designed special test railcars to test large capacity scales. Whereas a tolerable error was 0.2 percent, NIST tests showed that nearly 80 percent of the rail scales were off by almost 4 percent. With help from NIST, states began to test their railroad and other large capacity scales more regularly and rigorously, and accuracy quickly improved.

National model electrical safety code
"Safety First" sign in a coal mine.
Library of Congress

National electrical safety code

January 01, 1915

Generating electricity depended on coal mining, and the coal industry was one of the first to use electric lighting. Because electrical sparking in a coal mine could lead to disaster, the industry came to NIST in 1909 for help developing safety standards. The results of NIST’s investigation were published as the nation’s first model electrical safety code in 1915.

Man standing on a boat holding a radio direction finder, which looks like a kite without any fabric

Radio Becomes an Aid to Navigation

January 01, 1916

Among the many innovations that NIST contributed to navigation was a radio direction finder (RDF), a special antenna that determined the direction of radio transmissions. The original RDF was made by an Italian team, but NIST researchers patented an improved design, built in 1916. It served as a prototype for the U.S. Navy and was used widely to pinpoint the positions of enemy forces during World War I.

Safety for the Household

Safety for the Household

January 01, 1918

From 1915 until the late 1970s, NIST published consumer guides on subjects ranging from how to properly set a clock to energy conservation. One of NIST’s more popular guides, Safety for the Household, published in 1918, illustrated, among other things, the proper way to use a fire extinguisher.

NIST launches WWV

A NIST staff member listens to a radio broadcast picked up by a homemade crystal set.

NIST launches WWV

November 02, 1920

NIST began experimental broadcasts of music and speech about six months before the first commercial station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, came on the air on Nov. 2, 1920. NIST used these broadcasts to study the technical problems that plagued early radio, and in 1923, NIST began broadcasting standard frequencies from its station WWV in Beltsville, Md., to help commercial radio stations avoid interfering with each other’s signals.

Earth current meter

Earth-Current Meter Invented

January 01, 1921

By 1917, more than 40,000 miles of streetcar tracks had been laid to connect city neighborhoods across the nation. It was assumed that the electricity that drove these cars was being transmitted back to the generating station. However, much of the electricity was finding its way to nearby pipes/buried metal and causing galvanic corrosion. NIST's meter made it possible to measure the amount of current leaking into the ground and determine the rate of corrosion.

Proving ring

Proving Ring Invented

September 14, 1926

Essentially a kind of spring scale, proving rings are simple mechanical devices that can measure applied forces with a high degree of accuracy. NIST’s Serge Petrenko and Herbert Whittemore together invented the proving ring in 1926, and the devices are manufactured commercially and in wide use today.

First full scale fire test

First Full-scale Fire Test

June 17, 1928

In 1928, NIST’s Fire Resistance Division burned down two condemned brick buildings on the corner of 10th and B St., N.W., in Washington D.C., in what may have been the first full-scale fire test ever conducted. Researchers compared the conditions experienced in this fire with theoretical time-temperature curves then in use. This data would eventually be incorporated into uniform fire resistance standards for buildings.

Comparing radiation standards
Lauriston Taylor (left) of NIST and Walter Brinks of the U.K.’s National Physical Laboratory perform the first international X-ray standards intercomparison.

Comparing radiation standards

January 01, 1931

NIST built a standard chamber that produced precise amounts of radiation so that scientists could test exposure detectors, or dosimeters, and make the first international comparisons. These comparisons harmonized international measurements of radiation and were used when drafting an X-ray safety code.

First blind landing

First blind landing

September 16, 1931

NIST’s greatest contribution to radio navigation was probably the invention of the “visual type” beacon for an airplane landing system, which enables a crew to locate and land on a runway in poor visibility. Using this system, pilots were able to execute the first “blind landing” in 1931 in College Park, Md.

Setting up the FBI Crime Lab

Wilmer Souder: Pioneering Forensic Scientist

January 01, 1932

A random calibration assignment in 1913 led NIST's Wilmer Souder to become one of the nation's first federal forensic scientists. Widely regarded as an expert in a number of nascent forensic fields such as ballistics, forgery, and materials analysis, Souder provided expert testimony in a number of cases, including the Lindberg baby kidnapping, and helped establish the FBI's crime lab in 1932.

Better weather forecasting
By 1940, the NIST/Navy radiosonde was an integral part of U.S. weather forecasting with some 35,000 units being built annually.

Better weather forecasts

January 01, 1936

The radiosonde is a balloon-borne instrument that transmits atmospheric data useful for weather forecasting, such as temperature and pressure, to a ground station. NIST designed and built radiosondes for the U.S. Navy beginning in 1936. NIST made improvements to the device that allowed for the first accurate measures of humidity in 1938.

First natural color photos of a solar eclipse

First Natural Color Photos of a Solar Eclipse

June 19, 1936

NIST and the National Geographic Society sponsored an expedition to present-day Kazakhstan to observe the June 1936 solar eclipse. Using a NIST-designed and constructed 14-foot eclipse camera and 9-inch lens, the team took the first natural color photographs of a solar eclipse.

Harry Diamond holds the 81-mm mortar shell with the mortar fuze mounted on the nose.
NIST’s Harry Diamond (left) holds the 81-mm mortar shell with the mortar fuze mounted on the nose.

Proximity fuze

January 01, 1943

NIST researchers helped to invent, design, test and build the radio proximity fuze, which triggers an explosive before it hits the ground to maximize its impact, for all types of ordinance. First used by the U.S. Navy in 1943, 8 million of these fuzes were produced by the end of World War II. The five types of bombs using radio proximity fuzes are shown in the photo.

Bat missile
The Bat mounted on a U.S. Navy Consolidated PB4Y-2.

A missile called the Bat

January 01, 1945

NIST helped design and construct the Bat, the first fully automated guided missile to be used successfully in combat. NIST worked out the aerodynamic and stabilization characteristics of the 454-kilogram missile, which was guided by the radar echoes of the enemy target. In addition to its self-guidance capability, the Bat was known for its long range, high accuracy, and high payload. It saw action in the Pacific in 1945.

New light on length measurements

New light on length measurements

January 01, 1948

In 1948, William Meggers proposed that the meter be redefined based on wavelengths of green light produced by a mercury lamp he had developed, a method which was far superior to the meter bar in use at the time. In 1960, the scientific community did redefine the meter based on wavelengths of light, but they picked the orange-red light of the krypton lamp.

Condon and Lyons with Atomic Clock and Ammonia Molecule Model

NIST Director Edward Condon (left) and clock inventor Harold Lyons contemplate the ammonia molecule upon which the clock was based.

First atomic clock

January 06, 1949

Harold Lyons and his colleagues at NIST built the world’s first atomic clock in 1949. Based on the frequency of the microwaves emitted by the ammonia molecule, the clock was not accurate enough to be used as a time standard, but it did prove the concept. Louis Essen at the U.K.’s National Physical Laboratory built the first atomic clock accurate enough to be a time standard in 1955.

Protecting the Charters of Freedom

Protecting the Charters of Freedom

January 01, 1950

NIST helped to design and build protective enclosures for the original Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The helium-filled cases were in use until 2003, when they were transferred to NIST-designed argon-filled enclosures, which allowed for advanced monitoring of their condition.

Samuel Alexander and Ralph Slutz

Two of SEAC's inventors, Samuel Alexander (left) and Ralph Slutz, look over one of SEAC’s early outputs written on ticker tape.

SEAC Boots Up

April 01, 1950

With a speed of 1 megahertz and 6,000 bytes of storage, the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC) was the world’s first internally programmed digital computer and the fastest machine of its kind when it was built. During its 13-year tenure, SEAC calculated sampling plans for the Census Bureau, wave functions for helium and lithium, stresses in aircraft structures, and produced the world’s first digital image.

AD-X2 charges dropped
NIST researcher Herbert Reed measures the specific gravity of an automotive battery treated with AD-X2.

Charges dropped over AD-X2

January 01, 1953

As part of their work studying battery life, NIST scientists found that commercial additives, including one called AD-X2, did not improve battery performance. Claiming government persecution, the manufacturer of AD-X2 instigated two high-level investigations into the NIST testing program. Through it all, NIST stood by its testing methods, which were vindicated by the National Academy of Sciences in 1953.

panoramic xray

Panoramic dental X-ray machine

January 01, 1953

The partnership between NIST and the American Dental Association resulted in the invention of the panoramic X-ray machine in the 1950s, which made it possible to image the entire mouth with only one exposure, minimizing the radiation dose to dental tissues. The collaboration, which began during World War I, also contributed to the invention of the high speed dental drill.

Digitizing the 1960 Census
A Census Bureau technician monitors the scanning of 1960 census questionnaires by FOSDIC.

Digitizing the 1960 Census

January 01, 1954

Developed by NIST and the Census Bureau in the early 1950s, the Film Optical Sensing Device for Input to Computers, or FOSDIC, scanned microfilm of hand marked forms and converted the markings into computer code. It was capable of reading 10 million answer-positions per hour. Updated versions of the device processed data collected in the censuses held every 10 years from 1960 until 1990.

1951 NBS groundbreaking

1951 National Bureau of Standards (NBS) groundbreaking in Boulder, Colo.

NIST Boulder Labs Open

September 01, 1954

The need to build new radio testing and cryogenics research facilities led to the establishment of NIST laboratories in Boulder, Colo. Ground was broken on land donated by the people of Boulder in 1951, and the new lab opened for business in September 1954. President Eisenhower delivered the dedication address.

Yang and Lee in front of a chalkboard at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.
Yang (left) and Lee at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.
Credit Alan Richards

The Fall of Parity

January 01, 1956

In 1955, physicists Chen Ning Yang and Tsung Dao Lee claimed that parity, the long-held belief that our world would be indistinguishable from its mirror image, was false. Experiments done on their behalf at NIST (by to-be NIST director Ernest Ambler and others) and elsewhere showed that their theory was correct. Yang and Lee won the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics for their insight.

WWVB begins broadcasting

WWVB begins broadcasting

January 01, 1956 to December 31, 1969

In 1956, NIST’s Boulder laboratories began broadcasting experimental low-frequency signals from its station KK2XEI. In 1963, this station was relocated to Fort Collins, Colo., renamed WWVB, and began broadcasting time and frequency signals. Today, radio-controlled clocks in most of North America use WWVB to synchronize themselves with NIST’s atomic clock in Boulder.

Black & white photo of baby

The first digital image

January 01, 1957

Computer pioneer Russell Kirsch and his colleagues created the first digital image of his infant son Walden as part of their efforts to develop a way for the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC), a first generation computer designed and built at NIST, to recognize numbers and letters.

A glittering research tool

A glittering research tool

January 01, 1958

Capable of generating pressures millions of times those found at sea level, the diamond anvil cell, which was invented at NIST in 1958, heralded the birth of high-pressure science. NIST researchers built the first diamond anvil cell by hand using diamonds confiscated from smugglers. In fact, without a source of free diamonds, the device would have been too expensive to perfect.

Photo of former NIST Director Lyman Briggs
Dr. Briggs and Ossie Bluege of the Washington Baseball Club measuring the spin of a pitched ball.

Curveballs really curve

January 01, 1959

For the better part of the 20th century, the curveball was a hotly debated topic among fans and players, with many dismissing the ball's apparent sideward movement as an illusion. With the aid of several Washington Senators’ pitchers and a wind tunnel, retired NIST director Lyman Briggs demonstrated that a thrown ball can curve up to 17.5" over the 60'6" that separate pitcher and batter.

Gaithersburg campus

NIST Moves to Gaithersburg

January 01, 1961

After WWII, it had become clear that the original laboratories located in Washington, D.C., were completely inadequate for the increasingly sensitive experiments NIST scientists were performing. Planners selected a site in the then small, sleepy farming town of Gaithersburg, Md., and ground for the new campus in Gaithersburg was broken in 1961. Major construction was mostly completed by 1970.

JILA was first housed in the Colorado state armory building.

JILA Founded

April 13, 1962

Founded by to-be NIST Director Lewis Branscomb and to-be Nobel Prize winner Jan Hall and others, the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, now JILA, is a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST. A world leader in the physical sciences, JILA scientists’ achievements include the creation of the Bose-Einstein condensate and the development of the laser frequency comb.

Handbook of Mathematical Functions

Handbook of Mathematical Functions

January 01, 1964

More than 1,000 pages long, the NIST Handbook of Mathematical Functions, colloquially known as Abramowitz and Stegun after its authors, was first published in 1964 and has been reprinted many times since. The Handbook is likely the most widely distributed and most cited NIST technical publication of all time. During the mid-1990s, the book was cited every 1.5 hours of each working day.

Milligan and Jacox

"Fingerprinting" free radicals

January 01, 1966

Dolphus "Dick" Milligan had already trapped free radicals in frozen nitrogen and argon long enough to take their pictures when he joined NIST in 1963. He and Marilyn Jacox further refined the technique, and together they characterized more than 50 of these elusive molecules. Their work included the first detailed characterization of the free radicals involved in the combustion of hydrocarbons such as gasoline.

NIST radio station WWV

WWV went on the air in Ft. Collins, Colo., on Nov. 30, 1966, at 5 p.m. Mountain Time.

WWV moves to Colorado

November 30, 1966

NIST radio station WWV, relocated from Greenbelt, Md., began official broadcasts from Fort Collins, Colo., in 1966. Immortalized in this photo, the switch was thrown to initiate transmissions at 5 p.m. Mountain time on Nov. 30, 1966. About 80 guests attended the event and afterwards NIST received more than 8,500 notices from radio amateurs noting receipt of the first-day signal.

NCNR goes online

NCNR goes online

January 01, 1967

Construction of the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) began in 1963 and was completed in 1966. The reactor achieved criticality on Dec. 7, 1967. Built to serve the entire Washington, D.C., research community, the originally 10-megawatt machine generated 1.7x1014 neutrons per square centimeter per second.

Collapse of the Silver Bridge
Photo of collapsed bridge.

Collapse of the Silver Bridge

January 01, 1967

On Dec. 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, W.Va., collapsed during rush hour traffic, killing 46 people. NIST investigators found that the collapse was caused by a microscopic pit in the surface of a single eye-bar that connected the deck to the suspension chain. Over time, the pit had grown into two small cracks about 4 mm in length, which led to the catastrophic collapse.

cholesterol SRM

Measuring cholesterol

January 01, 1967

Before 1967, it was difficult to know whether a person really had high cholesterol. That’s because U.S. cholesterol tests were off by as much as 23 percent—resulting in either unnecessary treatment or an increased (and unacknowledged) risk of death. Things changed for the better after 1967, when NIST produced its first Standard Reference Material (SRM) for clinical applications.

Joan Rosenblatt

A truly unbiased military draft

January 01, 1970

Statisticians roundly criticized the 1969 draft lottery as unfair, so the Selective Service System asked NIST to devise an unquestionably random method for the 1970 draft. NIST mathematician Joan Rosenblatt and colleagues developed a method to randomly choose calendars and priority permutations for the draft. The new draft method was praised as fair, and Rosenblatt won the 1971 Federal Women’s Award for her efforts on this and other projects.

New method of thermometry
NIST Fellow James Zimmerman was also a co-inventor of the RF superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID).

New method of thermometry

January 01, 1971

In 1971, Robert Kamper and James Zimmerman of NIST Boulder proposed and demonstrated a new absolute thermometer based on the principle that a resistor (a device used to control electrical current) generates random noise from jiggling electrons, the magnitude of which depends only on the temperature of the resistor and a fundamental constant, the Boltzmann constant.

topografiner scan
This photo shows the surface of a diffraction grating (extremely fine-ruled lines on glass used to separate light into its component colors) as imaged by the NIST topografiner in the early 1970s.


January 01, 1971

Developed between 1969-1971 at NIST by Russell Young, John Ward, and Fredric Scire, the topografiner was an instrument for measuring surface microtopography and was a precursor to the scanning tunneling microscope (STM). Young and his colleagues called their invention a “topografiner” because it could study the topography of a surface and resolve details as small as 30 atoms in size.

Ken Evenson

World record measurement of the speed of light

January 01, 1972

Using techniques they developed to produce laser light with a very stable frequency, or color, Ken Evenson and his group at NIST Boulder were able to measure the speed of light at 299,792,456.2 +/- 1.1 meters per second. This value was 100 times more accurate than the previous best measurement, which calculations showed to be almost 44 meters per second too fast.

Alaskan Pipeline survey

Alaskan pipeline survey

January 01, 1974

Because of the potential environmental danger of developing oil reserves on the Alaskan coast, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration asked NIST chemists to collect baseline data on the marine environment. The 700 samples of sediment, water, and marine life proved invaluable when measuring the impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

smoke detector
The improved performance and placement of smoke detectors has saved countless lives, and the subject of fire safety is still an active area of research at NIST.

Smoke detector standards

January 01, 1974

NIST released its first report on smoke detectors in 1974 based on extensive tests involving a variety of home fire scenarios. Using this data, researchers discovered that much of the conventional wisdom about the proper placement of smoke detectors was wrong, with potentially fatal consequences. The team offered new recommendations for the optimal placement of smoke detectors as well as minimum performance specifications.

DES Published

DES published

January 01, 1977

In response to the needs of the private sector, especially banking and financial services, NIST issued the first publicly available data encryption standard (DES)—a landmark event in an era when most cryptographic equipment was either proprietary or classified. While the DES algorithm was developed by IBM, NIST popularized the technology by making it a standard for federal agencies.

NIST wins Emmy

James Jesperson with the Emmy.

NIST wins Emmy®

January 01, 1980

Closed-captioning originated with a system called TvTime, developed by Dicky Davis, James Jesperson, and George Kamas in 1971 to send out time and frequency information to a large audience. Later, NIST and ABC used the technology to caption an episode of The Mod Squad, and by 1979 all the major networks were using it. In 1980, NIST, ABC, and PBS won an Emmy® Award for outstanding engineering achievement.

Walkways Collapse

Walkways collapse

January 01, 1981

On July 17, 1981, two suspended walkways at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Mo., collapsed leaving 114 people dead and 186 injured. NIST’s investigation concluded that a last-minute design change by the builder to the box beam-hanger rod connections doubled the load on the 4th floor walkway, eventually causing the collapse of that walkway and the 2nd floor span below it.

Photo of SRM 1960, the first product made in space

NIST and NASA collaborated to manufacture standard reference material (SRM) 1960, also known as “space beads.”

First product made in space

April 04, 1983

Made in the microgravity environment of the Space Shuttle Challenger during its maiden flight in April 1983, NIST standard reference material 1960 contained 5mL vials of 10-micrometer polystyrene beads. The perfectly spherical, stable beads made for more consistent measurements of small particles like those found in medicines, cosmetics, food products, paints, cements, and pollutants.

Richard Kautz testing the standard he helped develop.
Richard Kautz testing the standard he helped develop.

Defining the volt

January 01, 1985

Achieving a feat once thought impossible, NIST succeeded in developing the world's first practical, stable and easy to use 1-volt standard in 1985. These instruments are used by national, industrial, and military laboratories around the world to make products ranging from mobile phones to missile guidance systems.

Reagan and Baldrige

President Reagan and Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige (right).

Baldrige Program founded

August 20, 1987

Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige advocated quality management as key to U.S. prosperity and sustainability. After the Secretary died in 1987, Congress created the Malcom Baldrige National Quality Award in recognition of his contributions.

Fritz Hollings
MEP was conceived by Senator Ernest Frederick "Fritz" Hollings of South Carolina. He maintained his support for the program through his retirement in 2005, whereupon the program was renamed the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership in his honor.

MEP established

January 01, 1988

Created by the Technology Competitiveness Act of 1988, the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) is a nationwide network of independent, non-profit entities, including corporations, universities, community colleges, or state governments serving small- and mid-sized manufacturers as trusted business advisors who are focused on solving manufacturers’ challenges and identifying opportunities for growth.

improving antenna measurements

Improving antenna measurements

January 01, 1988

In 1988, NIST published the model for uncertainty evaluations of near-field antenna measurements, the culmination of several decades’ work. More than 200 laboratories around the world routinely perform near-field measurements, which have saved millions of dollars in testing costs for the military and satellite manufacturers, among other users.

World's First DNA Profiling Standard
Copyright Robert Rathe

World’s first DNA profiling standard

August 01, 1992

NIST produced the world’s first DNA profiling standard, SRM 2390, in 1992 at the request of the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. Developed over the course of two years, SRM 2390 was made to test every step of the restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis method for identifying people using DNA.

Internet Time Service Launches
Copyright Geoffrey Wheeler

Internet time service launches

January 01, 1993

NIST/JILA Fellow Judah Levine came up with the idea and wrote most of the software for the NIST Internet Time Service, introduced in 1993. The service allows anyone to set their computer clock to match Universal Coordinated Time as provided by NIST. As of late 2012, the service responded to more than 12 billion requests a day.

Transition edge sensors
Copyright Geoffrey Wheeler

Transition edge sensors

January 01, 1996

NIST's Kent Irwin invented the first practical “transition-edge” sensors, which precisely measure energy using a superconducting metal. When the metal absorbs as little as a single photon’s worth of energy, it stops being a superconductor. This high sensitivity makes them useful for advanced telescopes such as the South Pole Telescope.

Greg Linteris

Studying fire in space

April 04, 1997

NIST's Greg Linteris investigated how gravity affects combustion; how to design efficient, clean-burning combustion engines; and how to improve fire safety in space while onboard Columbia flight STS-94.

William Phillips
Copyright Robert Rathe

Phillips shares Physics Nobel

October 15, 1997

NIST physicist William Phillips shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics with his colleagues for the development of methods to cool and trap atoms with lasers. The advance made it possible to build a new kind of atomic clock—the cesium fountain clock—that was approximately three times more accurate when first built than its predecessors.

Jefferts and Meekhof

Jefferts and Meekhof of the Time and Frequency Division.

Copyright Geoffrey Wheeler

New official U.S. clock

December 29, 1999

After four years of testing and development by Steve Jefferts and Dawn Meekhof, the NIST-F1 took over as the nation's primary time and frequency standard. During its tenure, the clock’s accuracy improved six-fold to where it will not gain or lose a second in more than 120 million years. It was replaced by NIST F-2 in 2014.

Optical Frequency Comb

Optical frequency comb

March 01, 2000

The result of the convergence of many areas of laser physics, especially NIST Fellow John Hall’s techniques for stabilizing lasers, an optical frequency comb is a laser specially designed to produce a series of very short (a few millionths of a billionth of a second), equally spaced pulses of light. Frequency combs have dramatically simplified and improved the accuracy of frequency metrology and made it possible to build optical atomic clocks.

Advanced Encryption Standard

Advanced Encryption Standard

October 02, 2000

After a three-year competition among some of the world's leading cryptographers, NIST selected the Rijndael algorithm as the nation’s new Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). Replacing the aging Data Encryption Standard (DES), which was adopted in 1977, the AES is a public algorithm designed to protect sensitive information well into the 21st century.

Eric Cornell
Copyright Geoffrey Wheeler

Cornell shares Physics Nobel

October 09, 2001

Eric Cornell of JILA, a joint institute of NIST and the University of Colorado Boulder, and his colleagues shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work to create the world's first Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)—a new state of matter that emerges at just a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero. Scientists now routinely use BECs to simulate and study quantum mechanics up close and in slow motion.

Jin, Regal and Greiner

Deborah Jin (front) with colleagues Cindy Regal and Markus Greiner.

Copyright Geoffrey Wheeler

Fermionic Condensate

January 28, 2004

NIST/JILA Fellow Deborah Jin and colleagues created the first fermionic condensate in a gas of potassium. Fermions are especially difficult to form into condensates because they resist being in the same quantum state. The Jin group showed that they will form, but require extremely low temperatures as well as a specialized magnetic field trap. The research aids our understanding of superconductivity and superfluidity.

Jan Hall

Hall Shares Physics Nobel

October 04, 2005

NIST/JILA fellow John L. (Jan) Hall shared half of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics for his “contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency comb technique.” A sort of measuring stick to determine the frequency of another laser with high precision, frequency combs enable a broad array of technical capabilities from better clocks to subtle experiments on the nature of the universe.

A new type of clock
Copyright Geoffrey Wheeler

A new type of clock

February 04, 2010

NIST’s experimental quantum logic clock, first built by Till Rosenband in 2005, was thought to be the world’s most precise clock in 2010. The clock is based on a single aluminum ion trapped by electric fields and vibrating at frequencies 100,000 times higher than the frequencies used in fountain clocks like NIST F-1 and F-2. The logic clock will neither gain nor lose a second in 4 billion years.

headshot of Dave Wineland

David Wineland shares Physics Nobel

October 09, 2012

NIST physicist David Wineland shared the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics "for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems." The research represents the first steps towards building a new type of superfast computer based on quantum physics and could become the future basis for a new time standard.