A NIST kidolgozott egy eljárást az atommeghajtású tengeralattjárók zajának csökkentésére. Ebben robotok végezték el a munkát 30 perc alatt, ami korábban emberi közreműködéssel 17 óráig tartott.
The Institute also began studying the properties and processing of materials as a basis for engineering new materials for products offering enhanced performance. NIST worked with auto manufacturers, for example, to find economical ways of making lightweight automobile frames out of reinforced plastics.
In continuing its original mission of cooperating with and supporting the private sector, NIST emphasized programs designed to assist emerging industries such as biotechnology, space science, and optical communications.
Biotechnology became a byword of the 1980s with the development of DNA fingerprinting for identification purposes and the advent of genetically engineered products. Accordingly, NIST, the University of Maryland, and Montgomery County, Md., formed the Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology (CARB), designed to be a multidisciplinary center of protein engineering. Among their achievements, CARB scientists worked with industry to alter an enzyme found in common soil bacteria so that laundry detergent containing the enzyme could better tackle tough stains, overcoming a long-standing problem in that industry. Meanwhile, NIST began producing standards to ensure accuracy in forensic DNA analysis. This technology was one of dozens for which NIST scientists have won R&D 100 awards, given annually by R&D Magazine for the most technologically significant new products of the year.
Space science advanced after the first reusable spacecraft, the shuttle, was sent into orbit in 1981. NIST actually made the first sales of a product manufactured in space, in the form of a measurement tool. Billions of tiny polystyrene spheres, made highly uniform in shape and size in the low-gravity environment of space, were made available as a Standard Reference Material for calibrating instruments used by medical, environmental, and electronics researchers. Such instruments could be used, for example, to count and measure the shape of blood cells. Another project involved radiometric calibrations of an optical simulator and light sources for the Hubble Space Telescope, put into orbit in 1990. NIST was the only lab in the world that could provide certain types of calibrations essential for space-based astronomy.
Back on Earth, fiber-optic technology began to show up in U.S. communications systems because it could carry far more data than traditional copper telephone lines. NIST had anticipated this trend when its staff began characterizing optical fibers in the 1970s. These hair-thin strands of glass carry information in the form of light waves emitted by lasers. As fiber optics became more pervasive, the NIST program expanded to include measurement and calibration services and research on devices that send, receive, and process data. There was some urgency to this work because, although Americans invented the core components of optical technology, Japan had taken the lead in marketing products based on them. By the mid to late 1980s, U.S. leaders were increasingly worried about foreign competition, principally from Japan but also from Europe. A deluge of government and industry reports warned that America was falling behind in key technology areas, succumbing particularly to Japan's ability to commercialize U.S. inventions first and manufacture products efficiently. One of the more timely examples was Japan's success in commercializing the video-cassette recorder, which had been invented years before by a U.S. company.