Browsing: Metrology

It seems that I have been a teacher nearly my entire life. One of my first jobs as an early teen was helping to teach gymnastics to elementary students. Before and after I earned my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, I taught a women’s and children’s classes. In the world of weights and measures and laboratory metrology (metrology is the science of measurement), about 40 percent of my time each year is spent teaching, designing new courses or webinars, updating and improving training, and training or developing new trainers. I love that moment when my students’ “light bulbs” come on and I know that they’re getting something, especially when that something is the ability to make high quality, credible…

Even though I have spent my entire professional career at NIST, until a year ago it would never have entered my mind that I would become the chief of the NIST Office of Weights and Measures. I started out on the scientific side of metrology, improving our nation’s standards for calibrating devices that measure pressure, such as barometers, the pressure gauges you use to check your tires, and sphygmomanometers, which are the devices the doctor uses to measure your blood pressure every time you go in for a checkup. Until recently, I was on a two-year detail assignment at the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM) in Sèvres, France, contributing to the international metrology system and enjoying the perks…

Marie Curie is perhaps the most famous woman of 20th century science. Major motion pictures and best-selling biographies have chronicled her discovery of the radioactive elements polonium and radium, for which she shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 and then received a second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry, in 1911. Very little note, however, has been made of her leadership role in the development of radioactivity standards. In 1910, she was asked by her peers to prepare the world’s first radium standard: a glass ampoule containing 21.99 milligrams of radium chloride, whose mass and radioactivity had been carefully measured. She agreed, on the advice of Nobel laureate Ernest Rutherford, that this international standard would not be kept in…

Cars, buildings, computer chips, you and me and the air we breathe, everything is made of atoms. We learn this in elementary school, because, well, it’s an elementary fact. But we seldom think about it because we are big, and atoms are small—so small that, even with the help of the most powerful of microscopes, they’re almost completely invisible to us. For most of our history, we humans have been pretty much clueless as to what’s going on at the scale of individual atoms. Despite our ignorance of this microscopic world, we’ve made some miraculous innovations just by studying the behavior of materials at the macroscopic scale. After all, we didn’t need to know anything about atoms to build pyramids…

Welding is said to be more art than science. In part, this is a nod to the vital, skilled work that welders perform. It’s also recognition of the fact that the physics of the process is really, really difficult to understand. I joined a NIST project on laser welding about two years ago. Before this, I had studied materials for solar panels and had done some work in laser processing, but I had little interest in laser welding. What eventually drew me in, and what motivates me now, is just how complex laser welding is and the opportunity to contribute to the understanding of a process that is so intertwined with everyday life, yet so mysterious. Act I: Creating a…

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