Browsing: Standards

With International Firefighters’ Day behind us and World Turtle Day looming, you might not think you’ve got time for another international day in May. But don’t skip World Metrology Day, which is observed on May 20 every year—the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of the Meter in 1875. Because measurements matter. Without accurate measurements, you can’t be confident you’re getting what you pay for at the grocery store, taking the right dose of medicine or crossing a well-constructed—and safe—bridge. Metrology—the science of measurement—touches on many areas of your life, whether you realize it or not. Take just one example: transportation. Without the ability to make very precise measurements, you wouldn’t be able to get where you’re going as…

I’ve been interested in science ever since I was a child. If you had told 8-year-old me that I was going to be a physicist, then I would have been very excited. Had you told me that my lab would be filled with a bevy of bombs, and that my typical work day might involve blasting those bombs with X-rays, then I would have been thrilled! And the best part is it’s all for a good cause: To help put better equipment in the hands of the nation’s bomb squads so they can keep the public safe. The goal of public safety bomb squads is to locate explosive devices and render them safe before they can do harm. According to…

Even though I have spent my entire professional career at NIST, until a year ago it would never have entered my mind that I would become the chief of the NIST Office of Weights and Measures. I started out on the scientific side of metrology, improving our nation’s standards for calibrating devices that measure pressure, such as barometers, the pressure gauges you use to check your tires, and sphygmomanometers, which are the devices the doctor uses to measure your blood pressure every time you go in for a checkup. Until recently, I was on a two-year detail assignment at the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM) in Sèvres, France, contributing to the international metrology system and enjoying the perks…

I grew up in a small farming community in southern Georgia. My main exposure to new technology was through the annual farm equipment exposition, science fiction books and television. One of my favorite shows was The Six Million Dollar Man. Do you remember the famous opening lines? “Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive.” “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better… stronger… faster.” (If you’re like me, you just heard that classic bionic sound in your mind.) Although it’s not really bionics, the research community and private sector are focusing on the related area of…

Marie Curie is perhaps the most famous woman of 20th century science. Major motion pictures and best-selling biographies have chronicled her discovery of the radioactive elements polonium and radium, for which she shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 and then received a second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry, in 1911. Very little note, however, has been made of her leadership role in the development of radioactivity standards. In 1910, she was asked by her peers to prepare the world’s first radium standard: a glass ampoule containing 21.99 milligrams of radium chloride, whose mass and radioactivity had been carefully measured. She agreed, on the advice of Nobel laureate Ernest Rutherford, that this international standard would not be kept in…

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