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Two Advanced Laboratories Open at NIST Boulder and JILA

Six-year collaboration brought the project in on time and on budget

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 14:49

Two new advanced laboratory buildings for high-precision science and measurements have officially opened in Boulder, Colorado, providing upgraded facilities to support technology innovation and economic growth as well as the training of future scientists.

Federal, state, and local government officials, university leaders, and Nobel laureates were among those attending the April 13, 2012, dedication ceremonies and tours at the new Precision Measurement Laboratory (PML) on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) campus in Boulder and at the new X-Wing at JILA, a joint interdisciplinary institute of the University of Colorado (CU) at Boulder and NIST for research and graduate education in the physical sciences. JILA, formerly known as the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, is located on the CU-Boulder campus.

The Precision Measurement Laboratory at the NIST facility in Boulder, Colorado. Credit: Copyright Christina Kiffney Photography

Both laboratories tightly control environmental conditions such as vibration and temperature, as is required for cutting-edge research with lasers, atomic clocks, nanotechnology, and other areas of study at NIST and JILA. Both buildings also have capabilities for micro- and nanofabrication of custom research devices. The original NIST-Boulder and JILA laboratories were built during the 1950s and 1960s.

Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, Patrick Gallagher, who is also NIST’s director, cut the ribbon to officially open the PML, which will house some of NIST’s best-known experiments and technologies, including NIST-F1, the U.S. civilian standard atomic clock.

Ribbon cutting to dedicate the JILA X-Wing at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Left to right: Tom O’Brian, chief of the NIST Quantum Physics Division; Philip DiStefano, chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder; Patrick Gallagher, NIST director; and Eric Cornell, JILA department chair and Nobel Laureate. Credit: Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado

“This laboratory is at the heart of making sure that NIST Boulder has the capabilities it needs to carry out its critical mission,” says Gallagher. “The work done here on atomic clocks, on voltage standards, on quantum computing, on detectors—this is the essence of NIST’s role to define and implement a system of measurement to the benefit of the United States. And it’s a mission that is as fresh today as it was in 1901, when this agency was first founded. So I think our best is still to come, and it’s exciting to know we’ll have a home like this in which to do it.”

Stella Fiotes, NIST’s chief facilities management officer, noted that planning, design, and construction of the PML required six years of sustained leadership and collaboration to ensure completion on time, within the budget, and with a strong safety record. “This beautiful facility provides a dramatic improvement over the existing facilities located on the NIST-Boulder campus,” says Fiotes.

At the JILA ceremony on the CU-Boulder campus, Gallagher said the new X-Wing will deepen and refresh NIST’s productive partnership with the university. He noted that JILA supports NIST efforts to promote technology transfer by generating new measurement tools and training young innovators who go on to advance measurement science, found high-tech companies, and win Nobel prizes.

“JILA started out, frankly, as a unique experiment 50 years ago, a pioneering partnership bringing together federal scientists and university researchers within the same organization,” says Gallagher. “It’s been an experiment that has had remarkable success, beyond even the original vision of the founders. It’s been so successful, in fact, it has served as a model for all other successful university and government partnerships, not just at NIST, but also at a number of other agencies and universities.”

JILA/NIST fellow and Nobel Laureate Eric Cornell, who served as master of ceremonies for the X-Wing dedication, noted that JILA had outgrown its original building. “JILA was a victim of its own success,” he says. “We really needed to expand, we really needed to modernize, we really needed the X-Wing.”

For more information about the PML, see the fact sheet.



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Founded in 1901, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a nonregulatory federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce. Headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland, 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 improve our quality of life.