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SPIE Professional April 2008

Standard Measure

NIST’s Optical Technology Division Can Light Up Your Career

By Gerald T. Fraser

The goal of NIST’s Optical Technology Division can be summed up in a single phrase: to provide the foundation for all of the optical radiation measurements that take place in our nation. Those few words lay out an enormous and important task.

We are working to meet this goal, bit by bit, by developing national measurement standards and services in support of optical technologies. As optical technologies are continually advancing, our work is never really done. But I suppose we like it that way.

The Optical Technology Division (OTD) services industries that depend on optical measurements, and there are many: lighting, imaging, automotive, electronics, health and medical, biotechnology, nanotechnology, energy, chemical, solar and environmental monitoring, aerospace.

OTD also performs research important to the defense industry. The Low Background Infrared Radiometry project is focused on missile defense, namely how to detect faint infrared signals from small targets against the cold background of space. These researchers are working to set standards for infrared sensing. (NIST is always deeply involved in the SPIE Defense+Security Symposium.)

NIST—and OTD in particular—see SPIE as an important partner. NIST/OTD researchers and engineers give talks about NIST research and services at SPIE meetings, and our staff members serve on committees and as session chairs and organizers. Here are just a few of the ways that NIST supports the optics and photonics community.

New Biophysics Group

A new Biophysics Group is focusing on applications involving spectroscopy, microscopy, and imaging from the terahertz to the visible range. The group’s work includes investigating protein interactions and aiding pharmaceutical research. The terahertz region provides an unprecedented measure of biophysical properties necessary to improve predictability in drug discovery and design, but not readily obtainable using other methods.

Researchers in the Biophysics Group are also developing measurement tools and techniques to investigate protein structure and function.

Members of the group attended SPIE Photonics West in January and presented some of their terahertz effort. Other NIST/OTD scientists gave presentations on photon counting detectors, hyperspectral imaging spectroscopy, and an optical database for hyperspectral medical imaging.

Careers and Partnerships

There are many opportunities at NIST for SPIE members who are at the beginning of their careers. These include postdoctoral programs and research projects through the National Research Council (NRC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NRC postdoc program is tailored to recent recipients of a doctoral degree who are U.S. citizens. One part of the program is a partnership with the NIH, for which U.S. citizenship is not required. For undergraduates, NIST also has a summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program.

Midcareer opportunities abound as well. OTD offers annual short courses at the Gaithersburg, MD, campus in photometry and radiation thermometry, spectroradiometry, and spectrophotometry. The courses provide lab experience, teach best practices for uncertainty analysis, and deal with the treatment of important theoretical concepts. This year’s short courses in spectroradiometry and radiation thermometry were scheduled for March and June, respectively. The Optoelectronics Division offers short courses in laser measurements and display metrology at NIST’s Boulder campus.

OTD also hosts more than 50 guest researchers who participate in collaborative research in various areas of optical technology, such as radiometry, photometry, optical properties of materials, biophysics, and quantum communication. Guest researcher opportunities are available for almost every program at NIST, including in the OTD. Interested scientists should contact the relevant project scientist or engineer directly or go to the NIST Technology Partnerships Web site.

Several NIST facilities and instruments are available for researchers outside of NIST to use for proprietary and non-proprietary measurements. Instruments available include gamma-ray sources, small-angle x-ray scattering, neutron radiography, and a pulsed inductive microwave magnetometer.

Perhaps you’ll meet a NIST/OTD researcher at the next SPIE meeting. We’d love to talk to you.


Innovation Funds

NIST’s new Technology Innovation Program will provide cost-shared awards to industry, universities, and consortia for research on potentially revolutionary technologies that address critical national needs.


What Is NIST?

From automated teller machines and atomic clocks to mammograms and semiconductors, innumerable products and services rely in some way on technology, measurement, and standards provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

NIST logoFounded in 1901 as the National Bureau of Standards, NIST is now part of 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 our quality of life.

NIST does this via four cooperative programs. Its research program is spread across several laboratories: Building and Fire Research, the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, Chemical Science and Technology, Electronics and Electrical Engineering, Information Technology, Manufacturing Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, the NIST Center for Neutron Research, and Physics.

The Baldrige National Quality Program promotes performance excellence among U.S. manufacturers, service companies, educational institutions, and health care providers. It also conducts outreach programs and manages the annual Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

The Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) is a nationwide network of local centers offering technical and business assistance to smaller manufacturers.

NIST has an operating budget of about $843 million and has main campuses in Gaithersburg, MD, and Boulder, CO. NIST also partners with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several other federal and state institutions to run the Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston, SC.

NIST employs about 2800 scientists, engineers, technicians, and support and administrative personnel. It also hosts about 2,600 associates and facility users from academia, industry, and other government agencies.

NIST partners with 1600 manufacturing specialists and staff at nearly 440 MEP service locations around the country.


Measuring Radiation

OTD partners with the Council for Optical Radiation Measurements, which is formed by experts in industry, academia, and government. The council is helping NIST determine the measurement needs of the optical radiation measurement community and how to address those needs in a timely and cost-effective manner.

NIST released a report on the economic impact of measurement in the semiconductor industry in December.


Gerald T. Fraser
Gerald T. Fraser is chief of the Optical Technology Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland. Contact him at gerald.fraser@nist.gov or 301-975-3797.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4200804.03

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