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NIST Unveils New Laboratory Building for Improved National Radiation Measurements

On Sept. 23, 2019, NIST celebrated the addition of a new wing on its Radiation Physics Building, which will add 38 new lab spaces designed to improve measurements. From left to right: Skip Vaughn; Jim Olthoff; Sen. Chris Van Hollen; Walter G. Copan; Sen. Ben Cardin; Deputy Secretary for Commerce Karen Dunn Kelley. Credit: J. Stoughton/NIST

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) this week unveiled a new laboratory building that substantially enhances the U.S. government’s ability to conduct radiation measurements critical to the health care, food processing, national security and other industries. 

“Every type of health care in the U.S. that depends on radiation relies on the measurements done at the NIST Radiation Physics Building,” said Deputy Secretary of Commerce Karen Dunn Kelley. “Which is why it is so important that this addition is now complete and ready for use.”

An extension to NIST’s current Radiation Physics Building, the new H Wing will add 38 laboratory modules and approximately 7,900 square meters (85,000 square feet) of state-of-the-art space to the building. The new facility will allow: 

  • improved accuracy of calibrations needed for X-ray, gamma ray and other radiation detectors; 
  • the creation of standards to verify doses absorbed by tissues from radionuclide medical treatments; 
  • enhanced national security through better detection of nuclear and radiological materials; and 
  • an expanded range of radioactive gas standards needed for environmental, medical, national security and other applications, among other benefits.

NIST’s measurements enable 17 million nuclear medicine procedures, 40 million mammograms and 80 million CT scans in the U.S. each year. They also help to ensure the safety of milk and vegetables by supporting the irradiation (for pasteurization and canning) of 120,000 tons of foodstuffs each year.  

Built at a cost of $82.4 million, the H Wing is part of a multiphase modernization effort expected to cost a total of $327 million. All told, the effort will add nearly 10,000 square meters (107,000 square feet) of space to the original building and bring the older sections up to modern codes and performance standards. The new addition will dramatically improve control of temperature, humidity and air filtration to levels needed for precision measurements.  

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