Woman takes over at NIST MONTGOMERY COUNTY


GAITHERSBURG -- There's something new at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg.

At the age of 34, Arati Prabhakar confirmed by the Senate on May 28 to become the 10th director at the 92-year-old agency, which has helped develop and maintain measurement standards in physics, chemistry, electronics and fire technology.

Now that the former Congressional Fellow is on the job, Dr. Prabhakar said she's mindful of raised eyebrows over her being a young woman who did not emerge from the nitty-gritty ranks of laboratory science.

"When I came in the door, I wondered what people would say," said Dr. Prabhakar, who has a master's degree in electrical engineering and a doctorate in applied physics.

And she hardly is a stranger to the federal government or working mostly with men.

She spent seven years at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, most recently managing $300 million worth of research in advanced electronics.

"I've never worked in any other environment," Dr. Prabhakar said during an interview in her office.

Of the 1,450 scientists and engineers at NIST, 266 are women. At the agency's Boulder, Colo., facility, there are 274 male scientists and 29 women.

"I'm 34 years old, and I don't pretend to have a lot of laboratory experience," Dr. Prabhakar said. "But that's not what keeps me up at night.

"What keeps me up is thinking about how I'm going to make NIST a premier scientific organization," she said. "The president's technology plan calls for doubling our lab budget."

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