National Physical Laboratory

Measuring Success

Measuring Success - Institution of Mechanical Engineers logo

Professor Isobel Pollock, who has chaired the Pathfinder Group and Electromagnetics and Time Working Group at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and National Measurement Office (NMO), was recently announced as the 127th President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

In her Presidential Address, titled 'Measuring Success', Professor Pollock explained the importance of measurement in science, engineering and daily life, and tackled the misconception that measurement is a completed science, using the examples of time, distance and climate change.

Professor Pollock began her address:

"Health, cooking, clothes, transportation and sports. This may seem a disparate list of activities or items, but they all have one common theme: measurement."

She continued:

"Often we are unaware of the constant measuring that we do in our daily lives, and how it is the fundamental basis that enables us to make choices and decisions. In the engineering and science professions, measurement, accuracy and precision are of paramount importance, as they are the basis of what we do and how we do it.

"We measure success, and failure, and often base our actions on judgements that arise from measurement. It is far more powerful than just a set of numbers on a scale, and by exploiting the value of measurement we as engineers can achieve more."

On the subject of time measurement, Professor Pollock mentioned NPL's work on providing the UK's time to within four billionths of a second and recent research on the development of optical clocks, which could improve accuracy further. She went on to comment on the wider importance of accurate time measurement:

"It is not difficult to imagine that the world economy would face considerable issues if we did not have trust in the technology that accurately measures time. We simply would not be able to do business in the way that we do."

The lack of agreed measurements and standards in the area of climate change research is seen as a hindrance to developing engineering solutions. NPL recently opened the UK's Centre for Carbon Measurement to help address this issue. Professor Pollock said:

"In 2012, NPL launched the Centre for Carbon Measurement with the aim of reducing the uncertainties in many of these types of data and providing robust measurement practices to inform national and international action. By having an increasing and reliable body of knowledge, gained through relevant measurement practices, we can have more informed debates on climate change and its consequences."

Read the full Presidential Address

Watch a video biography of Professor Isobel Pollock.

Last Updated: 12 Jun 2012
Created: 12 Jun 2012