National Physical Laboratory

Annual Review


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2015 Annual Review

Annual Review 2015 coverSince joining the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) on 1 September 2015, as Chief Executive Officer, I have been constantly amazed by the quality and breadth of the science delivered, the application and impact it has, and the commitment and passion of the NPL staff.

I have been overwhelmed by the high regard that NPL and its work is held in, by its many stakeholders, both within the UK and internationally. I did not realise so much world-leading research was happening here, and the impact it was having on industry and society – for example, we are currently supporting an application using ultrasound to screen for breast cancer more effectively.

This has been a year of change for NPL; at the beginning of 2015, NPL returned to government ownership and is now a public corporation owned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). This was closely followed by the announcement of our strategic partners, the Universities of Strathclyde and Surrey, who are helping to bring the Science Minister's aspirations for the business to life. In the Spring we appointed Dr David Grant CBE FREng as independent Chair of the NPL Management Ltd Board, and also created a new Science and Technology Council whose membership contains a wealth of experience and knowledge to ensure that NPL’s science stays relevant and of the highest quality. NPL also said a fond farewell to Dr Brian Bowsher, NPL’s Managing Director for the last six years, and the business was managed by Dr Martyn Sené until my arrival.

"Britain’s innovators already
have a great track record of exporting both their expertise and technology. For example, scientists from the National Physical Laboratory recently completed a three-year project to design, build and install an atomic force microscope at NPL India. And an NPL project to install an antenna extrapolation range at China’s National Institute of Metrology was officially opened earlier this year."

Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP
Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills
Ministerial Keynote Speech for Innovate 2015

NPL has overseen a number of significant events in 2015 – we held the inauguration of the Postgraduate Institute for Measurement Science attended by over 100 students working on PhDs associated with NPL; we launched the Quantum Metrology Institute; and also concluded our most recent customer survey, proving the impact that NPL and measurement has. It demonstrates that measurement support was essential for the development of new products, with 30% stating that their innovations would have failed without it. The survey also revealed that £2 billion worth of products would be at risk without the support provided.

We are immensely proud of the international relationships that we have fostered with National Measurement Institutes across the globe, collaborations that have included assisting the National Institute of Metrology in China with opening a new antenna range and organising an international workshop on UTC traceability for the global financial sector.

We also celebrated the 60th anniversary, a significant number in the world of timekeeping, of Louis Essen building the first caesium atomic clock at NPL in 1955. This led to an international redefinition of the SI second in 1967 and our current atomic time research is reaching an uncertainty equivalent to one second in 300 million years.

NPL continues to champion the advancement of metrology skills and is leading the BIS Trailblazer programme, to upskill the current and future workforce. I was delighted that, when I attended my official NPL induction, I was alongside the most recent cohort of NPL’s Advanced Apprenticeship scheme, who all started at the same time as me.

So looking forward, as a research laboratory with a strong international reputation in the physical sciences, we will look hard at where we can increase our impact globally, as well as nationally where we have a crucial role in supporting productivity, skills, exports and inward investment across sectors as diverse as manufacturing, health, energy and defence. Working with our strategic partners and becoming increasingly externally connected, we will be launching more regional laboratories in the UK where we can bring metrology know-how to emerging science and disruptive technologies, and, crucially, deliver ever greater impact to local businesses and society as a whole.

I hope that you enjoy reading this review of last year’s achievements and if I have not managed to meet you personally, I hope that I will do so in the near future.

Dr Peter Thompson
Chief Executive Officer

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