What is the National Institute of Standards and Technology?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a federal agency that operates out of the United States' Department of Commerce. Founded in 1901, the National Institute of Standards and Technology is tasked with recording all technological developments, creating industry standards for technology-related issues, and promoting the invention and improvement of technological enterprises. The stated goal of the National Institute of Standards and Technology is the promotion of scientific and technological development that will benefit the US economy and standard of living for citizens.

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

The NIST was founded by a government charter, officially created by Congress on 3 March 1901 under President Theodore Roosevelt. Despite technology booming since the Industrial Revolution, the country still had no official set of technological standards that governed quality control, standardized measurements, or other important factors in creating nationwide products. The new organization allowed technological and manufacturing developments to be incorporated with the whole country in mind, rather than just in a localized area.

In essence, the National Institute of Standards and Technology is a measurement standards laboratory. This type of organization is responsible for setting national standards for units of measurement, calibrations, and quality control measures. One of the main provinces of NIST is the creation of extensive reference manuals for applicable standards that are provided to government agencies, universities, and other organizations.

In addition to standard regulation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has a vested interest in the research, support, and development of new technology. It runs four major programs: the Technology Innovation Program, Hollings Manufacturing Extension Program, NIST Laboratory, and the Baldridge National Quality Program. Each program has a specific interest connected to the overall mission of the NIST, including the recognition of excellence in technology and manufacturing practices, the development of infrastructure technology, grant and cost-sharing for university and private research organizations, and assistance programs for small manufacturing and technology companies.

Some of the accomplishments of this venerated institution include the improvement of radio transmission in the 1920s, some of the first colored photographs of solar eclipses, and the first atomic clock. The organization pioneered the first reading machine, one of the forerunners of optical scanners, and created the first digital computer in the nation. One of the many operations of Apollo 11 included planting a powerful laser that emitted pulses back to the Earth, allowing NIST scientists to more accurately determine the distance between the Earth and the moon. In the modern era, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has become heavily involved in environmental and renewable energy research, as well as overseeing the updating of US infrastructure to match 21st century standards.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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