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Website of the Week — NIST Virtual Museum


Time again for our Website of the Week, when we showcase interesting and innovative online destinations. Our web guide is VOA's Art Chimes.

In the scientific world, maintaining standards is a necessary part of the work. By standards, I don't mean how clean the laboratory is. I'm talking about the unglamorous job of making sure that one gram of something really is one gram, that a measurement of one meter really is one meter — that sort of thing.

Here in the United States, a government agency called the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, is responsible for advancing standards, and measurement science in general. To learn more about the surprisingly broad range of their work, visit their online museum at museum.nist.gov.

CORRAGIO: "Our scientists conduct research in a wide variety of areas in the physical and engineering sciences with the goal to promote the nation's technology infrastructure. So the virtual museum showcases some of the best parts of NIST history."

Mary-Deirdre Coraggio heads the information services division at NIST, which used to be known as the National Bureau of Standards.

If you are a shortwave listener, you probably have heard time and frequency stations like this one.

National Institute of Standards and Technology time. This is radio station WWV ...

Getting out accurate time and frequency information is an important job at NIST, one that helps insure that communications services — from mobile phones to network broadcasts — work correctly. So naturally the NIST museum has an exhibit on timekeeping, and you'll learn how time and other essential measurements have been re-defined over the years.

CORAGGIO: "That one goes back to the very early days of the development of such objects as the Short [pendulum] clock and then the quartz crystal frequency standard, the atomic clock. And this is one of the exhibits that students sometimes like to visit, that and the weights and measures, and you'll find that our students enjoy visiting these two sites."

TEXT: Some of the standards work at NIST seems surprisingly low-tech. There's an exhibit on a wall composed of more than 2,000 kinds of stone used in construction to test how they are affected by weather. Another one describes the standardization of women's clothing sizes, based on measurements of 15,000 American women decades ago to help the then-new mail order industry.

CORAGGIO: "Most catalogs have a copy of how to measure according to the standard that is set. So these standards, while they were set over 50 years ago, still hold true and we are still trying to continue to revise measurements for clothing for today's fairly diverse female population."

Mary-Deirdre Coraggio says there's much more at the National Institute of Standards and Technology virtual museum, so check it out yourself at museum.nist.gov, or get the link from our site, voanews.com.

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