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Expert insight into the world of metrology

To celebrate World Metrology Day, we spoke to NPL's Head of Metrology, Richard Brown about why it is vital to everyday life...

What does a head of metrology do?

I am responsible for making sure that UK national measurement standards are accurate, properly curated and equivalent to national measurement standards of other countries around the world. This ensures that the measurements we make are globally comparable. This in turn means that I also need to oversee the high quality of NPL's scientific research and measurement services provided to customers.


How did you get in metrology?

I was keen to pursue a career in science but got involved in metrology accidentally after seeing an NPL poster during a chance trip to the careers department at university. I don’t think I had a deep understanding of what metrology involved when I started the job at NPL but grew to love the subject over time.  


What is the difference between metrology and meteorology? 

Metrology is the science of measurement in any field of science and technology. Meteorology is the science of the atmosphere focussing on weather processes and weather forecasting.


What is the most exciting part of metrology?

Being part of an international community of National Metrology Institutes with a common purpose to ensure and improve the accuracy and comparability of measurements, globally, and address some of the most pressing grand challenges the world faces is consistently inspiring and motivational.


Why is metrology important to everyday life?

Measurement is ubiquitous and allows all of modern life function. We rely on accurate and trustworthy measurements for international trade, high-technology manufacturing, human health and safety, protection of the environment, global climate studies and basic science – in fact pretty much all of human life. And yet, we take these measurements for granted. One of the reasons for this is that the measurement system that we rely on, driven and underpinned by metrology, works so well.


How has metrology played an important role in the last year?

During the COVID-19 pandemic metrologists globally have applied their skills to a large number of areas of importance to pandemic response, both within their existing field of expertise and also in other areas where extra help was needed. This has included: the production, testing and supply of ventilators and other medical equipment; the testing and validation of personal protective equipment; improving the comparability and accuracy of diagnostic tests; and providing support for technologies aimed at disinfection of contaminated areas.


How will metrology impact the future?

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, metrology will not only provide ongoing support for the measurements required to keep COVID-19 under control, but it will also turn its attention to assisting with economic recovery from the pandemic by using accurate and innovative measurements to increase productivity, unlock the potential of innovation, decrease the time to implement changes that can add value, and help governments by providing a robust evidence base for policy development.


What is one piece of advice you would give your younger self?

To read more widely around my subject. The principles of metrology and the benefits it can bring are universally applicable. Investigating any new area of science in any depth very soon highlights opportunities for metrology to help produce better outcomes.

20 May 2021