Passwords and Peanut Butter

Wanna buy some really expensive peanut butter?

For a modest investment of $1,069.00, you too can acquire a tasty 3-pak of NIST Standard Reference Peanut Butter.

Coming in at approximately $59/ounce, that’s a bit pricier than the $.20/ounce you’d spend at the grocery store. But in this case, you’re buying more than the product in the jar. You’re buying “truth.”

NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is well-known as the government agency which sets password policies. NIST is the reason most websites began asking users to create passwords which contain:

☑️​ Upper-case letters

☑️​ Lower-case letters

☑️​ Numbers and

☑️​ Special characters

NIST is also the reason most websites now ask for passwords longer than 8 characters, and why websites don’t ask us to choose from a list of goofy questions like “Where did you attend high school?” or “What’s your favorite food?”

In the world of cybersecurity, NIST is almost always thought of as the good guys.

In addition to defining best practices and providing advice related to technology, NIST also produces 1,300 Standard Reference Materials, or SRMs. Thirty of these are food-related.

These highly-analyzed samples are used by manufacturers all over the world to calibrate their testing equipment. Lab techs know if their results agree with the NIST standard sample, their tests are reliable.

The high cost of these reference materials — including peanut butter — is really all about the extensive process NIST used to accurately measure the ingredients, and all the scientific expertise that went into verifying the sample’s chemical and physical properties.

NIST refers to their Standard Reference Materials as “Truth In A Jar.”

Other fun facts about these reference samples:

➡️​ NIST sells $20MM per year

➡️​ From a 20,000 square foot warehouse

➡️​ The most popular SRM is a break-away product called “Charpies”

➡️​ NIST even sells standard cigarettes for flammability testing

The newest Standard Reference Samples are:

➡️​ Typical Human Diet

➡️​ Human Sludge (ugh!)

➡️​ Live Hamster Ovary Cells for production of human monoclonal antibodies

So NIST isn’t only all about passwords. They also help lab techs find nasty impurities in peanut butter, like aflatoxins, that would do us a world of hurt if not for the vigilant folks at NIST.

For a behind-the-scenes tour — and a Tom Scott video — check out the links below:

Here’s a fun, behind-the-scenes video from Veritasium as they tour the NIST SRM warehouse:

And Tom Scott did an excellent, 4-minute video interviewing NIST staff in their lab. Check out the freeze-dried urine and whale blubber:

— Anthony Collette

Photo of NIST chemist, Carolyn Burdette, holding NIST SRM Peanut Butter.

Photo of NIST Standard Reference Material Peanut Butter — No. 2387, with white bread.

Photo of NIST Standard Reference Material Peanut Butter, No. 2387.

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