Catherine Cooksey’s picture

By: Catherine Cooksey

New employees at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are often surprised to learn that our agency is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. How could this be? On the surface it seems that the missions of the two organizations couldn’t be more different. The Department of Commerce would appear to be concerned with, well, commerce, while NIST is well known for its Nobel Prize-winning scientific and technological work.

But the connection can be explained through our agency’s mission statement: “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.”

Clare Naden’s picture

By: Clare Naden

Never have we been more acutely aware of the importance of reliability when it comes to laboratory testing. As the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted, the development of accurate diagnostic tests plays an important role in outbreak management.

Whether a laboratory develops its own test methods or incorporates ones that already exist, there is a lot to be considered, and the task bequeathed to them is great. Apart from the general risks of contamination, inadequate equipment, or failings in processes that must be rigorously managed, the procedures and tools required for each test can potentially differ.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, ISO has been collaborating with experts in many fields to establish where standards can really make a difference. As a result, experts on ISO’s technical committee for laboratory testing and in vitro diagnostic (IVD) test systems are currently working on international best-practice guidelines to assist laboratories.

Vanessa Bates Ramirez’s picture

By: Vanessa Bates Ramirez

China’s star has been steadily rising for decades. Besides slashing extreme poverty rates from 88 percent to under 2 percent in just 30 years, the country has become a global powerhouse in manufacturing and technology. Its pace of growth may slow due to an aging population, but China is nonetheless one of the world’s biggest players in multiple cutting-edge tech fields.

Renita Kalhorn’s picture

By: Renita Kalhorn

Steffen Heilmann is a firm believer in empowering his people and giving them opportunities to grow. During his early weeks as CTO at Aroundhome, he and his staff were heading into an important negotiation with their data center provider to take over responsibility of a mission-critical database.

Steffen had confidence in the abilities of his head of ops to take full ownership of the process, so he said something to the effect of, “You handle it.”

A few days later, however, he sensed something was off. When he sat down with his head of ops to learn more, Heilmann realized the misunderstanding. Instead of feeling empowered, his head of ops felt abandoned—as if his boss were simply offloading all the responsibility and pressure onto his shoulders.

This was far from the case. In fact, Heilmann had plenty of negotiating experience and was only too willing to share his expertise.

Ah, the challenge of translating leadership concepts from theory into practice.

Multiple Authors
By: Bob Holmes, Knowable Magazine

This story was originally published by Knowable Magazine.

It’s been a long year, but a vaccine against Covid-19 has started to roll out across the United States. There won’t be enough to vaccinate everyone right away, so public health officials will need to figure out how to manage the slow ramp-up of immunity.

Do we make faster progress by focusing on locked-down regions first, or on those that have tried to stay open? Dense urban areas or suburbs full of commuters? Should we skip over pockets with high levels of vaccine skepticism or push extra-hard to vaccinate there? And, ultimately, when will it be safe to relax, unmask, and start hugging people again?

Those are difficult questions to answer because the outcome depends on so many interconnected factors, including the unpredictability of individual humans’ minds and behavior. To make things even more challenging, human behavior is a moving target: What our leaders and friends say and do today influences what we ourselves do tomorrow. Effects can loop back to alter causes in a complex tangle that’s almost impossible for analysts to think through.

Bruce Hamilton’s picture

By: Bruce Hamilton

As we begin to take our approximately 4 1/2 billionth trip around the sun, I’m reflecting on the previous 525,600 minutes and looking ahead to the new decade. The decade (the ‘20s), by the way, began last month, not a year ago, a factoid noted in a short address by Hiroyuki Hirano in 1999 as the world approached the cyber-perils of Y2K.

After listening to Hirano explain multiple overwhelming challenges that manufacturing would face in the next century (Y2K was not one of them), I naively asked him what countermeasures he would recommend to manufacturers. “Oh,” he quipped, “I tell my friends, don’t go into manufacturing. It’s just too difficult.” 

Joshua Pearce’s picture

By: Joshua Pearce

People will recycle if they can make money doing so. In places where cash is offered for cans and bottles, metal and glass recycling has been a great success. Sadly, the incentives have been weaker for recycling plastic. As of 2015, only 9 percent of plastic waste is recycled. The rest pollutes landfills or the environment.

But now, several technologies have matured that allow people to recycle waste plastic directly by 3D-printing it into valuable products, at a fraction of their normal cost. People are using their own recycled plastic to make decorations and gifts, home and garden products, accessories and shoes, toys and games, sporting goods, and gadgets from millions of free designs. This approach is called distributed recycling and additive manufacturing, or DRAM for short.

As a professor of materials engineering at the forefront of this technology, I can explain—and offer some ideas for what you can do to take advantage of this trend.

Shaneé Dawkins’s picture

By: Shaneé Dawkins

What do first responders do? It’s an easy question, and I used to think I knew the answer. Firefighters put out fires; police officers enforce the law; emergency medical system (EMS) workers treat injuries; 911 operators answer 911 calls and dispatch first responders to the scene. Simple, right?

I am a computer scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) conducting research focused on human-centered computing and human-computer interaction. I have worked in the field for more than a decade, researching ways to help people with their real-world technology problems. My research, by nature, requires me to learn about different communities in order to assess their technological needs. For public safety, I thought I had a pretty decent grasp of the community. After all, what they do is woven into all our lives.

Steven Ouellette’s picture

By: Steven Ouellette

What is the most important thing for your business to be working on right now? Would everyone else working there agree? Is everyone working toward the business’s goals? How do you know?

Most businesses in my experience cannot answer these questions. There may be metrics, but they are not translated down to individual contributors or integrated with each other. They may be incomplete. Management may announce every year that this is the year we are all going to work on profit, or customer satisfaction, or some metric they read about in an article, but they never translate what that means for individuals, and nothing seems to change. There is often an idea that we should be doing something as a business, but different opinions as to what that might be. There is internal competition rather than cooperation.

You need a process to not only be able to answer these questions, but also to answer them with data. Everyone in the company needs to be able to show how they contribute to the organization’s goals.

Philippe Aghion’s picture

By: Philippe Aghion

Imagine a ship at sea, at risk of sinking in a tempest. Is it better to empower the crew to do whatever it takes to save the ship, or should every decision be made by the captain and top officers? Similarly, what should the optimal form of firm organization be during a severe downturn? The need to make tough decisions—including layoffs—may favor firms that concentrate power at the top. However, the turbulence and fast-shifting conditions magnify the value of the information held by local managers.

The two views can be compelling. Indeed, in the depths of the Great Recession of 2009, a survey of executives by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit revealed that decision-making had become more centralized in the C-suite. The rationale: to emphasize “projects that provide benefits across the enterprise rather than individual units.” But in another report three months earlier, the same publication argued that “companies have to deal with dramatically more uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in the current recession. Success does not come from centralization.”

So who should be in charge: the crew or the captain?

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