National Physical Laboratory

Functional Materials Research

NPL provides world-class research, consultancy, calibrations and specialised measurement services in chemical metrology. 

Gas Standards

Trace Analysis & Electrochemistry

  • Mapping the chemical activity of solid-liquid interfaces at the micro- to nanoscale.
  • Some heavy metals are known to be toxic and carcinogenic. They are emitted during industrial processes and through the abrasion and degradation of metal-containing materials. Heavy metals are present in the air in particulate matter (PM) and, in the case of mercury, also in the vapour phase.
  • Ion chromatography is used in the trace analysis area primarily to determine the anionic and cationic composition of ambient particulate matter (PM). In particular, measurements of nitrate, sulphate and chloride are of importance.
  • Measurement of mercury in the environment is of growing importance due to its high toxicity. Recent European legislation requires the UK Government to monitor the mercury content of ambient air – NPL is responsible for carrying out these measurements at 13 locations around the UK as part of the UK Heavy Metals Monitoring Network.
  • At NPL we carry out active research in the area of pH standards, in particular, the study of the Harned Cell as a primary method for pH measurement.
  • Stripping voltammetry has recently enjoyed a popular renaissance in trace element detection applications, although these techniques have always been regarded as some of the most sensitive available for trace metals detection.
  • Since its discovery in 1974, surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) has been used to detect and characterise a variety of chemicals and biological species. At NPL, our research focuses on improving the repeatability and reproducibility of SERS and understanding the mechanisms underpinning the method. This is targeted at overcoming barriers for the uptake of this technique as a powerful commercial tool for trace analysis.


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