National Physical Laboratory

Sir Joseph Ernest Petavel

Joseph Petavel

Petavel was educated at Lausanne, Geneva, before he joined University College, London, in 1893. He studied mechanical engineering under T. Hudson Bear and electrical engineering under Sir John Ambrose Fleming. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1907 and was awarded the KBE in 1920.

Petavel is best known for establishing the primary standard of light and designing the Petavel gauge for the measurement of pressures within exploding gaseous mixtures. He was also interested in aeronautics, which led him to qualify as a pilot; he exercised considerable influence on the progress of aeronautical research in Britain.

He became chairman of the Aerodynamics Advisory Committee during the First World War, a post he held until 1925, and a member of the general board of the National Physical Laboratory from 1911 to 1916. In September 1919, he was appointed NPL's second Director.

During his 17 years as Director of NPL, Petavel devoted himself to maintaining and increasing the prestige of the Laboratory both nationally and internationally, and increasing its usefulness to various industries in Britain. He is remembered for his geniality and hospitality, his parties, initiating the Laboratory Open Days and for opening up the garden at Bushy House to staff.

Last Updated: 1 Jul 2015
Created: 30 Apr 2010

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