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This is a packet and bottle of freeze-dried urine,
and the United States government will sell it to you for $983,
plus shipping.
Which is perhaps the strangest sentence I've ever started a video with,
but it’s true.
What's even stranger is: that’s a pretty reasonable price.
These are two of more than 1,000 Standard Reference Materials
that are kept here at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Here at NIST, we produce Standard Reference Materials
or SRMs for short.
SRMs are super characterised materials that our customers use
to make sure their measurements on their materials and processes
are accurate and reliable.
When a customer buys one of our SRMs,
they get both a unit of material and a certificate of analysis.
Each property, whether it’s a chemical constituent
or a physical characteristic of the material
is a certified property
and it's measured most accurately.
The certificate of analysis is just as important as the material itself.
Without the certificate and all the information that’s inside of it,
the SRM is just another bottle of stuff.
We have a variety of food materials in our SRM catalogue,
so this is slurried spinach.
When you slurry the spinach, it's nice and homogenous.
You sample a little bit from the top, it’s the same as sampling from the bottom.
We also have our infamous domestic sludge,
from a waste water treatment process,
that has been dried, ground up, homogenised into this nice, fine powder.
We take this material.
We certify various toxic elements within the sludge,
that’s what it’s used for.
We also have the microsphere slide that contains the space beads.
They're 10 micron-wide, polystyrene spheres
that were formed on the space shuttle in zero gravity.
We have to store some of our more sensitive materials in cryocooled conditions.
We have our peanut butter, right there in a glass jar.
Oh, it’s crackling.
Then, we have our whale blubber, organics in whale blubber.
This is actually whale blubber tissue from a beached whale.
It's for tracking organic contaminants in the environment,
and whales are the end of the food chain.
Every one of these reference materials has to be exactly the same,
to an incredibly precise margin.
They’ll be used by people around the world to calibrate and test machinery.
Now, other places make reference materials too.
It's just that everything in this warehouse has the US Government stamp of approval on it.
Now, just to be clear, the vast majority of reference materials here are pretty dull.
They're for industrial processes, so they're metal, or glass, or pure elements.
There are three types of bauxite: from Suriname, Jamaica or the Dominican Republic.
There's even really precise mixes of gases available,
along with some radioactive elements.
Sometimes, it takes us years to actually procure a new material
that becomes an SRM a couple of years later.
We buy industrial products directly.
It comes from a different source each time we make it,
but we make it the same way,
and we characterise it in the same fashion.
Either we determine the chemical composition or its physical characteristics,
but we do that with accuracy.
In other cases, we have SRMs that are used to determine how they break.
We measure over and over again, with different methods,
to ensure that what we're measuring is the true value in that particular material.
The material itself is not precise.
The measurements that characterise it are precise.
So if you haven’t worked it out yet,
the reason that freeze-dried urine is one of the reference materials
is because there are folks out there with machines that test urine.
They're either testing for drugs,
so the Institute will sell you urine laced with exact amounts
of the metabolites of cannabis or cocaine,
or they're testing for poisons and toxic elements.
So if you need to calibrate one of those testing machines,
to make sure that the results are accurate,
then the folks here are the ones you're going to call.
Thank you to everyone here at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Pull down the description for more about Standard Reference Materials
and about their work.