Every day we consciously buy products whose performance depends on one or more measured quantities — the wattage and lumens of light bulbs, that 12-ounce cup of coffee, the fill up at the gas station. Many of us take for granted that we are getting our money’s worth, and in large part we are, because the accuracy of these measurements traces back to calibrations and standards from the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
But measurement and other precise specifications also play a much broader, largely invisible economic role. All the sophisticated technologies we depend on daily require equally sophisticated measurement capabilities to ensure performance, quality, and safety. The diameters of optical fibers as thin human hair must match up perfectly to carry telecommunications data and video over thousands of miles. CAT scan machines must deliver the minimum X-ray dose for clear images while protecting patients from unnecessary radiation. The frequencies of cell phone systems must be finely tuned so that you receive clear reception of your calls, and only your calls, without crosstalk from stray signals.
Moreover, virtually every product or service one buys today is a complex technology system (computers, automobiles, even clothes washers). The components of these “systems” can only work together if the physical and functional dimensions of the interfaces between them are precisely specified.
NIST provides the precision measurement and interoperability tools industry needs now while pushing the boundaries of the underlying science to create the enabling infrastructure for the technologies of tomorrow.