National Institute of Standards and Technology

National Institute of Standards and Technology

NIST, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, was founded in 1901 as the nation`s first federal physical science research laboratory. Over the years, the scientists and technical staff at NIST have made solid contributions to image processing, DNA diagnostic `chips,` smoke detectors, and automated error-correcting software for machine tools. Just a few of the other areas in which NIST has had major impact include atomic clocks, X-ray standards for mammography, scanning tunneling microscopy, pollution-control technology, and high-speed dental drills.

Company details

100 Bureau Drive, Stop 1070 , Gaithersburg , Maryland 20899-1070 USA
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Business Type:
Government agency
Industry Type:
Monitoring and Testing
Market Focus:
Nationally (across the country)

Nist general information

From the smart electric power grid and electronic health records to atomic clocks, advanced nanomaterials, and computer chips, innumerable products and services rely in some way on technology, measurement, and standards provided by the national institute of standards and technology.

Founded in 1901, nist is a non-regulatory federal agency within the u.s. department of commerce. Nist's mission is to promote u.s. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.

Nist carries out its mission through the following programs:

  • The nist laboratories, conducting world-class research, often in close collaboration with industry, that advances the nation's technology infrastructure and helps u.s. companies continually improve products and services;
  • The hollings manufacturing extension partnership, a nationwide network of local centers offering technical and business assistance to smaller manufacturers to help them create and retain jobs, increase profits, and save time and money; and
  • The baldrige performance excellence program, which promotes performance excellence among u.s. manufacturers, service companies, educational institutions, health care providers, and nonprofit organizations; conducts outreach programs; and manages the annual malcolm baldrige national quality award which recognizes performance excellence and quality achievement;
  • From 2007 to 2011, nist provided cost-shared grants through the technology innovation program, and between 1990 and 2007, it managed the advanced technology program.

Nist's fy 2012 resources total $750.8 million from the consolidated and further continuing appropriations act of 2012 (p.l. 112-55), with an estimated additional annual income of $62.7 million in service fees, and $128.9 million from other agencies.

The agency operates in two locations: gaithersburg, md., (headquarters—234-hectare/578-acre campus) and boulder, colo., (84-hectare/208-acre campus). Nist employs about 2,900 scientists, engineers, technicians, and support and administrative personnel. Also, nist hosts about 2,600 associates and facility users from academia, industry, and other government agencies. In addition, nist partners with 1,300 manufacturing specialists and staff at about 350 mep service locations around the country.



Whether the job is developing a new, nanotech-based material, creating a secure and reliable computing network, or managing the power grid, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is what U.S. industry depends upon for the essential tools and resources it needs to innovate, compete, and thrive in a high-tech, interconnected world. NIST's measurement research, products, and services enable scientific discovery and global competitiveness—prerequisites for a growing economy that creates new jobs.

NIST test methods, measurement tools, and scientific data are embedded in technologies, products, and services that are produced or used in every sector of the economy. For most U.S. cell phone systems, all the cell towers in the network must be synchronized to within one millionth of a second per day—and NIST routinely provides time measurements 10,000 times more accurate than that. NIST standards help ensure the safety and quality of more than 30 million mammograms each year. Automated tellers, flat panel displays, search engines, even advanced concrete. Nearly all the high-tech products and services we rely on every day depend on NIST research, standards, and programs.


NIST has a century-long tradition of partnering with business and universities, and its main programs support the nation’s vast innovation ecosystem:


  • The NIST Laboratories are centered on three mission-driven focus areas: measurement science (Physical Measurement, Materials Measurement), technology (Information Technology, Engineering) and national user facilities (NIST Center for Neutron Research, Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology).
  • Acting as a strategic adviser to promote business growth and innovation and as a link to public and private resources essential for competitiveness, the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) is a nationwide network of local centers that provide technical and business assistance to smaller manufacturers.
  • The Baldrige Performance Excellence Program promotes proven performance management practices to strengthen U.S. organizations. Emulated nationwide through state and regional programs and by more than 80 countries, the program confers the prestigious Baldrige award to organizations in six categories: manufacturing, service, small business, health care, education, and nonprofit.
  • From 2007 to 2011, NIST provided cost-shared grants through the Technology Innovation Program, and between 1990 and 2007, it managed the Advanced Technology Program.

NIST has campuses in Gaithersburg, Md., and Boulder, Colo. In addition, NIST collaborates with several federal and state institutions to run the Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston, S.C., and jointly operates two fundamental physics institutes, JILA with the University of Colorado Boulder and the Joint Quantum Institute with the University of Maryland, College Park. In addition, the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research, headquartered in Rockville, Md., is a joint research center established by NIST, the University of Maryland College Park, and the University of Maryland Baltimore to foster multidisciplinary biotechnology and biomedical research. Also, in 2012, NIST, in partnership with the State of Maryland, established the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, a public-private collaboration for accelerating the widespread adoption of integrated cybersecurity tools and technologies.

NIST employs about 2,900 scientists, engineers, technicians, and support personnel. Each year, NIST hosts about 2,600 associates and facility users from academia, industry, and government agencies. We also partner with 1,300 manufacturing specialists and staff at over 350 MEP service locations around the country.

New research results and NIST technical expertise are communicated and put into practice by a variety of means. In a typical year, the agency's scientists and engineers publish about 2,000 professional journal articles and technical reports. NIST also offers more than 1,300 Standard Reference Materials (SRMs)—painstakingly characterized and consistently produced materials that are used to check the accuracy of instruments and test procedures. In 2011, it distributed more than 32,000 SRMs to customers in U.S. industry and around the world. NIST staff perform about 18,000 calibration tests annually, as well as accredit some 800 private and public testing and calibration laboratories.

NIST also maintains the nation's standards for time and frequency measurement, which are integral to the performance of advanced communication and broadcast systems, power grids, and high-speed commerce. Every day, our Internet Time Service, used to automate synchronization of computer clocks, receives more than 11 billion requests for official NIST time.

In addition, NIST's laboratories critically evaluate and compile about 100 collections of science and engineering reference data—the 'currency' for exchanging research information. Customer downloads of data, not including time downloads, total more than 19 million annually.

As technological change accelerates and as other nations increase investments in R&D and incentives to grow and attract high-technology industries, the United States faces unprecedented challenges. Leadership in critical areas of advanced technology—the wellspring of future economic growth—is at stake.

With the reauthorization of the landmark America COMPETES Act in 2010, the federal government has boosted its commitment to science, technology, and education, as a way to spur innovation, create jobs, and make U.S. businesses more competitive abroad. In particular, the new act authorizes funding for NIST that would double its core laboratory program budget over time. The law also strengthens NIST's role in technological innovation and gives it new tools to support U.S. manufacturing.

America COMPETES also directs NIST to expand its work with the private sector to develop needed standards for a range of vital industries and technology areas, such as emergency communications and tracking, green manufacturing, and high-performance buildings.

The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1997 gave NIST the job of coordinating government's development and use of technical standards and aligning these activities with the private sector. The need for coordination within and across sectors continues to grow as standards underpin the performance of today's most advanced and complex technologies and their ability to connect and work together.

Examples are the emerging smart electric power grid, electronic health records, cloud computing, and cybersecurity. In all four of these strategically important and fast-moving areas, NIST has been named by Congress or directed by the Administration to work in partnership with the private sector to develop needed standards that support interoperability and industrial innovation. Development and wide-scale adoption of quality, consensus standards also serve to expand markets and increase demand for innovative products.


NIST works to extend the limits of today's state-of-the-art measurement and prediction capabilities, setting the stage for the next generation of transformational technologies. In so doing, its scientists have garnered three Nobel Prizes in Physics since 1997 as well other prestigious honors, including National Medals of Science and Technology, and a MacArthur Genius Award. NIST also emphasizes putting the results of its research to work. Just one example—its technical investigation of the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings—led to substantial changes in U.S. and international building significant improvements in public safety over current practice.

Participation in interagency research efforts—National Nanotechnology Initiative, National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, and National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, among others, is another way NIST advances the nation's technology agenda.

In addition, NIST has identified priority areas that tightly align its measurement research, services, and standards-related activities to help solve major national challenges in the areas of manufacturing, information technology and cybersecurity, energy, healthcare, environment and consumer safety, and physical infrastructure.

NIST's mission:

To promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.

NIST's vision:

NIST will be the world’s leader in creating critical measurement solutions and promoting equitable standards.  Our efforts stimulate innovation, foster industrial competitiveness, and improve the quality of life.

NIST's core competencies:

  • Measurement science
  • Rigorous traceability
  • Development and use of standards

NIST's core values:

People: We value and support an inclusive, engaged, and diverse workforce capable of fulfilling the NIST mission.

Integrity: We are objective, ethical, and honest.

Customer focus: We anticipate the needs of our customers and are committed to meeting or exceeding their expectations.

Excellence: We expect world-class performance and continuous improvement in all we do.


The National Institute of Standards and Technology has helped to keep U.S. technology at the leading edge. Over the years, NIST has made solid contributions to image processing, DNA diagnostic 'chips,' smoke detectors, and automated error-correcting software for machine tools. NIST also has had major impact

Old photo of woman with headphones on at radio crystal set.

On atomic clocks, X-ray standards for mammography, scanning tunneling microscopy, pollution-control technology, and high-speed dental drills.

Founded on March 3, 1901, as the National Bureau of Standards, NIST was the federal government's first physical science research laboratory. NIST's major accomplishments of the past 100 years and their impact on industry, science and technology, the nation's economy, and the public—are described in NIST at 100: Foundations for Progress, an extensive, illustrated web site. Another fact sheet briefly summarizes the benefits of NIST's research and services.