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Interview with the 2008 Chairman of the ASTM Board of Directors

January/February 2008

Interview with the 2008 Chairman of the ASTM Board of Directors

Richard F. Kayser

Richard F. Kayser portrait

How are standards important to NIST’s endeavors?

NIST is the oldest U.S. federal physical science laboratory, dating back to 1901, but our roots go back to the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress “Power to fix the Standard of Weights and Measures.”

Our formal mission statement is “To promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve the quality of life.”

We accomplish this mission in several important ways. We develop and maintain world-class measurement capabilities and measurement standards. We provide customers with world-class measurement services, such as calibration services and Standard Reference Materials. We participate in the U.S. laboratory accreditation system. We help to ensure the technical efficacy of measurement-related documentary standards. And we promote efficiency in the U.S. documentary standards and conformity assessment systems. You can see that standards are what NIST is all about.

You have used the word “standards” in two different senses, “measurement standards” and “documentary standards.” What is the difference between the two?

A “measurement standard” is a physical way to define a certain quantity. For example, the chunk of platinum iridium, the kilogram, that is kept in a vault at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, is a measurement standard. A measurement standard is used as a reference and has a stated quantity value and measurement uncertainty.

A “documentary standard” is a classification, guide, practice, specification, terminology standard or test method developed and established by knowledgeable people according to agreed upon principles of consensus, such as those of ASTM International.

How does NIST help to ensure the technical efficacy of documentary standards?

We help ensure technical efficiency primarily by participating as measurement experts in developing standards.

About 400 NIST scientists and engineers participate in more than 1,000 national and international voluntary standards committees. Many of these committees focus on analytical testing, building and construction, healthcare, information technology, manufacturing and telecommunications. ASTM International committee memberships — also nearly 400 in all — account for about 30 percent of all NIST committee memberships in voluntary standards development organizations.

NIST also participates in interlaboratory studies to determine the precision and bias statements of test methods and provides measurement standards to calibrate instruments used in the test methods. ASTM International standards reference approximately 800 NIST reference materials.

When you say that NIST promotes efficiency in the U.S. documentary standards system, what do you mean?

The U.S. Congress gave NIST authority through the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 to coordinate the use of private sector standards by federal agencies. We also help coordinate federal, state and local technical standards and conformity assessment activities with those of the private sector, with the goal of eliminating unnecessary duplication and complexity.

In carrying out its coordination roles, NIST chairs the Interagency Committee on Standards Policy and reports annually on the federal use of voluntary consensus standards. To improve information sharing within and among federal agencies and with the private sector, NIST has also created www.standards.gov, a central Web repository of background materials and useful links for locating information about the use of standards in government.

In your view, what have been the major impacts of the NTTAA?

The act has spurred a change in the culture of the federal government because it requires, wherever possible, that federal agencies use private sector standards, particularly those developed by consensus standards development organizations, in lieu of creating unique government standards.

In the 11 years since the adoption of NTTAA, federal agencies have made significant progress in transitioning to private sector standards. For example, U.S. regulatory agencies reference nearly 7,000 nongovernmental standards in the Code of Federal Regulations. More than 2,400 of these references, in the regulations of 15 agencies, are to ASTM International standards.
We are also beginning to see more examples of the government working with the private sector earlier in the technology life cycle, such as in ASTM International Committee E56 on Nanotechnology. There are many other examples of federal-private cooperation on standards — in homeland security, information security, consumer and product safety, energy conservation, environmental protection and aviation safety, among others.

In your 30+ years at NIST, you have had several different positions. What are some of your more memorable experiences?

As a division chief in the Chemical Science and Technology Laboratory from 1989 to 1999, I played a significant role in NIST’s program on the thermophysical properties of alternative refrigerants. This program provided industry with the high quality experimental data and fluid property standards needed to replace ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons in air-conditioning and refrigeration applications.

As the director of Technology Services from 1999 to 2004, I worked with colleagues across NIST to develop the NIST traceability policy and to implement a NIST quality system for measurement services based on ISO/IEC 17025, General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories [International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission].

As the acting deputy director of NIST in 2004 and 2005, I initiated a major effort aimed at assessing and improving the health of the U.S. measurement system. Then in 2006 NIST completed a comprehensive assessment of measurement needs posing barriers to technological innovation and in 2007 established an official U.S. Measurement System Office.

How did these experiences acquaint you with standardization?

I became intimately involved with standardization in 1999 after I moved to NIST’s Technology Services. This NIST unit is responsible for carrying out the coordination roles assigned to NIST under the NTTAA, which I described earlier.

Technology Services also conducts a comprehensive workshop and training program — the Standards in Trade program — for foreign officials to learn about the value of U.S. standards, technology, principles and practices. Since 1995, more than 1,000 officials from the Americas, Asia, Russia and the Newly Independent States, and the Middle East have participated in SIT workshops in a variety of technical areas. Relationships built with these officials have helped improve acceptance of U.S. products in key export markets. ASTM International has been an active participant in this program.

Technology Services works in partnership with the Department of Commerce’s Foreign Commercial Service to sponsor four standards attachés on location in key foreign markets. These experts support embassy commercial and economic staffs in the identification and resolution of issues involving standards-related barriers to trade.

In addition, Technology Services operates the U.S. Inquiry Point for the World Trade Organization Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, disseminating information on proposed foreign technical regulations to U.S. interests for comment. It also carries out NIST’s roles and responsibilities in legal metrology, more commonly known as weights and measures.

What is NIST’s role in weights and measures?

In weights and measures, NIST’s role includes both a measurement standards component and a documentary standards component.

On the measurement side, we calibrate the standards for mass, density and other qualities used by the state weights and measures labs, which, in turn, calibrate the standards used in the field to ensure that buyers get what they pay for and that sellers have a level playing field.

On the documentary standards side, we work closely with state and local jurisdictions and industry to develop technically valid and practical requirements for consumer protection and fair competition. We publish these requirements as NIST handbooks, such as NIST Handbook 44: Specifications, Tolerances, and Other Technical Requirements for Weighing and Measuring Devices, and NIST Handbook 133: Checking the Net Contents of Packaged Goods. This work helps ensure uniformity in weights and measures laws and regulations across the country. NIST also provides training to states to support their enforcement of these laws and regulations.

On the international front, NIST manages U.S. participation in the International Organization for Legal Metrology. Our participation helps align national and international legal metrology standards and facilitates U.S. exports of measuring instruments used in commerce.

During your time at NIST, you undoubtedly have seen changes in the institute’s emphases. While NIST has and continues to be in many ways the nation’s laboratory, how has it evolved in response to the globalization of technology development and commerce?

Throughout my time at NIST, a key part of our mission has always been to develop, maintain and retain custody of the U.S. national standards of measurement; to provide the means and methods for making measurements consistent with those standards and to assure the compatibility of those standards with those of other nations. So, fundamentally, NIST’s work has always had an international focus.

Globalization has had the effect of making international working arrangements more formal than they used to be, and over the past 10 years NIST has entered into two major agreements aimed at facilitating international trade and commerce.

The first of these agreements, the International Committee of Weights and Measures Mutual Recognition Arrangement, one made among the committee’s national metrology institute member bodies, aims to establish the degree of equivalence of national measurement standards maintained by signatories; to provide for the mutual recognition of calibration and measurement certificates issued by signatories and, thereby, to provide a secure technical foundation for wider agreements related to international trade, commerce and regulatory affairs.

The second agreement, the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation Multilateral Arrangement, was signed in 2001 by 36 accreditation bodies from 28 economies worldwide. The agreement strives to build worldwide confidence in the competence of accreditation bodies and their accredited laboratories based on internationally agreed upon criteria and procedures and, consequently, to promote the acceptance of measurement results across borders.

More generally, NIST is working with its customers more closely than ever to understand and address their measurement and standards needs, especially when these pose barriers to technological innovation and industrial competitiveness. In the area of documentary standards, many of our customers have told us that they need international standards that are globally accepted and reflect U.S. interests and technology. As a result, a steadily growing proportion of the documentary standards activities in which NIST technical staff participate are global, including those of ASTM International.

How did you first become involved in ASTM International?

I had limited personal involvement with ASTM International before my move to NIST Technology Services in 1999. After that, I had numerous interactions with ASTM International, starting with NIST’s Standards in Trade workshops for foreign officials. I attended and participated in many of those workshops during my five years in Technology Services.

I also participated in ASTM International’s first open house held in November 2001 for standards officials from the Americas. At that program, I spoke about the long relationship between ASTM International and NIST, which goes back almost 100 years. I reviewed three formal and long-standing NIST-ASTM programs, including the Cement and Concrete Reference Laboratory, which dates to 1929. And I described in some detail NIST’s extensive participation in the development of ASTM International standards and presented some statistics on the NIST SRMs referenced in ASTM International test methods.

How has your thinking about standardization evolved since you joined ASTM International’s board of directors?

Since becoming a member of the ASTM board, I have become a strong advocate for “multiple paths” to international standards. This concept of multiple paths means that the principles used in developing standards are most important, not the source of the standards nor the model according to which the standards are developed, for example, the individual participation model versus the national standards body model. The WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade has articulated these principles for the development of international standards, namely, to ensure transparency, openness, impartiality and consensus, effectiveness and relevance, and coherence, and to address the concerns of developing countries. ASTM International exemplifies these principles in all aspects of its operations.

I see the concept of multiple paths as analogous to an open, free marketplace for international standards and standards development. The approach allows customers to use the standards that best meet their needs, whether these are for technical quality, short development time or something else. It keeps standards development organizations working hard to meet these needs. It’s a concept that makes a lot of sense.

Can you talk about instances in which MSEL researchers are participating in the development of ASTM International standards?

Yes, I’ll give you three examples.

MSEL researchers are very active in Committee E28 on Mechanical Testing, especially in the areas of impact testing and hardness, and more recently, instrumented indentation testing. In the case of impact testing, NIST also provides an indirect verification program for Charpy impact machines, and in the case of hardness, NIST SRMs for calibrating hardness machines. In both of these cases, the ASTM International standards and supporting NIST measurement services have a huge impact on the metals trade around the world.

Other MSEL researchers have contributed significantly to 15 standards on mechanical testing and powder characterization in Committee C28 on Advanced Ceramics. Committees F04 on Medical and Surgical Materials and Devices and F34 on Rolling Element Bearings have incorporated these standards in specifications for ceramic surgical implant materials and silicon nitride ball bearings. In addition, Committee C28 and NIST staff are organizing a workshop on needs and opportunities for strength and fracture standards at the nano and micro-scales to be held in Daytona, Fla., in January 2008.

MSEL is also active in the development of standards in emerging technologies. For example, MSEL researchers are working with the National Cancer Institute, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and industry in Committee E56 on Nanotechnology to develop ASTM International standards for measuring nanoparticle size. Size measurements are essential in screening nanoparticles intended for use in disease diagnosis and treatment and in evaluating the potential impacts of nanotechnology-based products on our safety, health and environment. MSEL researchers are also organizing interlaboratory studies on physical and in-vitro biological assays and developing needed certified reference materials. Our first reference material is a set of colloidal gold particles in 10, 30 and 60 nm sizes.

What challenges do you see facing ASTM International in the coming years? What are your hopes and goals for the organization as you prepare to take on a position of leadership in 2008?

I see three major challenges facing ASTM International. First, we need to continue to combat the perception by some that the national standards body approach to standards development is the only legitimate path to international standards. Second, we need to protect ASTM International’s intellectual property. When other standards development organizations use ASTM International standards, reasonable benefits should flow back to ASTM International. And third, we need to position ASTM International for continued success should changes in copyright law negatively impact the organization’s revenues from the sale of standards.

I also have three hopes and goals. I want to ensure that ASTM International continues to be both creative and relentless in its efforts to strengthen the broad international acceptance and use of ASTM International standards based on their technical quality and market relevance. I would like ASTM International to continue to set an ever higher standard of excellence in the benefits, services and products it provides to members and customers around the world. And finally, I want to help ensure that ASTM International continues to think outside the box in terms of new business opportunities and approaches that will sustain it far into the future and further its reputation as a global leader in providing voluntary consensus standards and related technical information and services.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I consider it an honor and a privilege to have this opportunity to serve such a world-class organization as ASTM International. I have deep respect for the many thousands of experts and committed volunteer members and for ASTM International’s outstanding staff. Both groups are committed to excellence in all they do. I look forward to working with them and to contributing to ASTM International, an enterprise that is not only incredibly valuable, but truly great.


Richard F. Kayser, Ph.D., a member of the ASTM board of directors since 2003, is the director of the Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory (MSEL) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), U.S. Department of Commerce.

With major programs in both Gaithersburg, Md., and Boulder, Colo., MSEL promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness in the development and use of materials by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve the quality of life. The laboratory develops and disseminates new knowledge of measurement; develops and disseminates measurement standards; develops measurement-related documentary standards; and develops, compiles, evaluates and disseminates key data crucial to technological advances in metallurgy, ceramics, polymers and materials reliability. MSEL technical programs address critical measurement needs in areas ranging from semiconductors and nanotechnology to automotive and health care.

After receiving an Sc.B. in chemistry from Brown University in 1973 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Rice University in 1976, Kayser took a position at the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST). Over the next 10 years, he conducted theoretical and experimental research in the area of thermophysics, publishing approximately 40 peer-reviewed papers in the archival literature. Kayser became chief of the Thermophysics Division in 1989 and chief of the Physical and Chemical Properties Division in 1996. He assumed the position of director of Technology Services in 1999, the position of acting deputy director of NIST in 2004, and the position of director of MSEL in 2005. He began a second stint as the acting deputy director of NIST in September 2007.

In recognition of his various contributions, Kayser has received the U.S. Department of Commerce Bronze (1983) and Silver Medals (1996 and 1999), the Senior Executive Service Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Service (1997 and 2007), the Sigma Xi Outstanding Young Scientist Award (1987) and the National Cooperation for Laboratory Accreditation Outstanding Achievement Award (2000).