Optical frequency combs allow scientists to measure light — and our world — with great precision and accuracy. This device has led to innovations that scientists never imagined when it was created. Credit: J. Wang/NIST

Rebecca Jacobson, Boulder Laboratory Public Outreach Coordinator, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

To many people, a measurement sounds mundane, like marking ticks on a ruler or reading the line on a thermometer. It’s a piece of data. And they tend to think that improved measurements look like finer and finer ticks on a ruler — which doesn’t seem very exciting.

But making new measurements is more than just making finer marks on a ruler. To measure something is to understand it, pull it apart and see how it works. …


Credit: N. Hanacek/NIST

Richard G. Gann, Chief (retired), Fire Science Division, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Everyone has a story about where they were when they heard about the disaster universally called “9/11.” Mine begins in Ottawa, Canada. As chance would have it, I was there for a meeting of the Fire Safety Engineering Subcommittee of the International Organization for Standardization. One of the prime subjects was standards for the structural performance of buildings during a fire. …


Credit: N. Hanacek/NIST

Jason Averill, Chief, Materials and Structural Systems Division, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

The kickoff meeting

On Nov. 1, 2002, in a small conference room on the Gaithersburg, Maryland, campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the trio of outside experts ( Dennis Mileti, Guylene Proulx and Norman Groner) hired to work on evacuation and emergency communication project of the World Trade Center Investigation met for the first time with the NIST investigation team. As we were ready to start the day, Dennis Mileti preempted the introductions with a statement that, in retrospect, became a transformative notion guiding…


N. Hanacek/NIST

John Butler, Fellow, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, I walked to work from my home in Olde Towne Gaithersburg, Maryland, and arrived at my office shortly before 9 a.m. I had just returned from an International Society for Forensic Genetics meeting in Germany where I had spoken on a new DNA test our NIST team had developed. …


N. Hanacek/NIST

Steven W. Kirkpatrick, Associate, Applied Research Associates, Inc.

I consider myself lucky to have been able to perform contract engineering research and consulting for my entire career. The work environment has been somewhere between industry research and academia. I’ve had opportunities to work with recognized experts at universities, national laboratories, in government and in industry. In addition, without changing my position, I get the opportunity to work on a new and interesting area of research every few years. When I started my career, my initial projects were on the dynamic buckling and collapse of structures. Five years later I was…


N. Hanacek/NIST

Kathyrn Butler, Physicist, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Imagine assembling a jigsaw puzzle of more than 14,000 pieces without an image on the box showing what the final picture will look like. Imagine that important pieces were missing and needed to be searched for. And imagine that this puzzle was four-dimensional, involving time as well as space.

This was the task for our small dedicated team in the wake of the World Trade Center (WTC) disaster on Sept. 11, 2001. In the weeks following the disaster, my colleagues in the Fire Research Division and I started to think…


N. Hanacek/NIST

Dereck Orr, Chief, Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Division, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

If you remember Sept. 11, 2001, that day is most likely imprinted on your mind like no other day.

You remember what you were doing and who you were with. You may remember feeling confused and a sense of utter disbelief as you watched the results of the first plane’s impact on 1 World Trade Center. You may have even thought — if only for a moment — “wow, what a tragic accident.” But then, you recall how that disbelief turned into horror and…


N. Hanacek/NIST

S. Shyam Sunder, Director of the Special Programs Office and Chief Data Officer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

The collapse of the World Trade Center (WTC) buildings following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was one of the worst-ever building disasters in recorded history — killing 2,749 people. More than 400 emergency responders were among those killed, the largest loss of life for this group in a single incident.

I was shocked to learn of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, along with the rest of the nation, while attending a conference in Krakow, Poland. My immediate…


Whether from skin cells, saliva, semen or blood, DNA from a crime scene is often collected and tested in a lab to see if a suspect’s DNA is likely a contributor to that sample or not. But every DNA sample tells a different story, and some samples are easier to interpret than others. The simplest type of DNA profile to interpret is one where the sample includes hundreds of cells from only one person. When two or more people have contributed to a sample, it’s called a DNA mixture. Some mixtures are so complicated that their stories remain a mystery…


Me at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2007 or so. Credit: K. Janke

Erin Legacki, National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Every vertebrate on the planet has evolved a complex system that uses small molecules called hormones to communicate directives to isolated tissues that impact everything in the body from eating to producing babies. This hormonal communication between tissues is critical during reproductive processes. From the production of eggs and sperm, to placenta development, to birth, tissues are in constant hormonal communication.

At the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina, I measure hormones in the hopes of…

National Institute of Standards and Technology

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