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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research themes > Measurements & testing > Metrology: measurements and testing tools for the future Europe
Graphic element Metrology: measurements and testing tools for the future Europe

Measurements are such an integral part of daily life that they are often taken for granted. Their importance only becomes apparent when trade disputes arise, when product systems fail or when there are health or environmental scares. Clearly though, the need for an agreed set of measuring and testing standards is of great importance. Without harmonisation, if you had your blood tested at ten different laboratories, you could obtain ten different results. Without standards for accuracy, consumers could not have confidence in the quality of the products they buy. Such considerations are of great relevance to the development of the European Research Area, a key component of which must be a unified metrology infrastructure, covering industrial, environmental, food and health sectors.

Metrology is defined as the science of measurement, including the development of standards and systems for absolute and relative measurements. Within the European single market, a common measurement and testing infrastructure is necessary to ensure comparability and quality control and to protect consumers against fraud. Around the world today, industrial countries are increasingly dependent on accurate and reliable measurement and testing systems and, for Europe, this is a key to competitiveness with the globalisation of world trade.

Building on experience

The European Union has been involved in measurement-related research for more than 25 years. In 1973, well before the beginning of the framework programmes for Research and Technological Development (RTD), the Community Bureau of Reference (BCR) was established at the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC). Its purpose was to meet the increasing needs for European harmonisation of the measurements and testing carried out by analytical and metrology laboratories in the Member States.
From 1994 to 1998, the original BCR activities were part of the Standards, Measurements and Testing (SMT) Programme, one of the specific programmes that made up the Fourth Framework Programme for RTD. Aimed at improving the competitiveness of European industry, supporting the implementation of other Community policies and, more generally, meeting the needs of society vis-à-vis measurements and testing, the SMT Programme had a total budget of more than 173 MECU and allowed for considerably increased and diversified activity in this key sector. More than 360 projects were financed through shared-cost actions, including RTD and Co-operative Research (CRAFT), and co-ordination activities, including thematic networks and concerted actions. The projects spanned a wide variety of areas ranging from European product quality measurements to research related to written standards and technical support for trade, health and safety, protection of cultural heritage, environmental monitoring and the justice system.
Currently, research in measurements and testing has been repositioned under the Fifth Framework Programme (1998-2002), where it is included within the Competitive and Sustainable Growth Programme.

Research Priorities

Measurements and testing is seen as a generic field of research, as testing expertise is needed everywhere and the results are applicable within all sectors of science and technology. The Work Programme for RTD actions in support of Competitive and Sustainable Growth sets out three overriding socio-economic objectives for M&T research: (images to illustrate each of these)

  • Standardisation - research in this area focuses on the development of measurement and testing methods and the production of scientific and technical data needed for the defining of performance, reliability and safety requirements for products and services.
  • Fraud and crime detection and prevention - protecting the economic interests of enterprises and society as a whole and ensuring the health and safety of citizens requires state-of-the-art measurement and testing techniques. The long-term goal is to stay a step ahead of the often well-resourced defrauder.
  • Quality improvement - here, research focuses on new and improved generic measurement and testing methods and the establishment of international traceability and equivalence of measurements. Methodologies are also being developed for assessing the quality of industrial products and services.

RTD activities required to meet each of the stated socio-economic objectives include the development of:

  • Instrumentation;
  • Methodologies;
  • Certified reference materials.

A number of RTD projects are now being carried out in each of these areas.
The total M&T budget under FP5 is 136 M€, with 74 running projects involving 471 participants as of March 2001.


Work in this area concentrates on the development of new and improved instrumentation and measuring systems, including software. For example, the ISOTRACE project is developing high-tech isotope ratio mass spectrometry equipment for detecting banned substances in the fight against doping in sport. The NITE-CRIME network is applying advanced laser ablation-based technology in the development of forensic tools for identifying materials in the fight against crime. In the health sector, the CARDIS project (Development of a detector for ultra-low radioactivity measurements in biological and medical fields such as cardiac imaging) is developing new imaging technology for high-resolution real-time visualisation of soft tissues such as the heart and brain, while the BUBBLES project has produced an air detection system for use in the ceramics production industry.


Research in this area covers not only the development of improved measurement and testing methods, but also of sampling strategies and databases and the production of scientific and technical data needed in standards setting. The SVEN project, for example, is looking at a number of aspects of vehicle noise, developing methods for the objective and subjective assessment of traffic noise quality. Meanwhile, the BEQUALM project is setting up a measurement infrastructure for a set of existing marine biological monitoring techniques. In the fight against crime, the STADNAP project is working to standardise the methods and techniques used by DNA-profiling laboratories. Finally, the LASERART project is working to preserve our European cultural heritage, applying existing laser techniques to the restoration of priceless works of art.

Certified reference materials (CRMs)

CRMs are used as reference samples for identification, as calibrants to provide traceability, and as tools for quality control in physical, chemical and biological measurements and testing. Research is oriented towards producing and certifying reference materials for that purpose. In the fight against doping in sport, the SGLC/MS is working to develop and compare chemical and enzymatic synthesis methods for producing anabolic androgenic steroids to be used as reference materials. In the area of environmental protection, the WASWAT project is working on the production and certification of CRMs for elements in wastewater, while the BROC project is developing biological reference materials for organic contaminants found in fish and mussels.

Monitoring and controlling lead

Because of its high toxicity, lead is one of the most closely monitored chemicals in Europe. While lead contamination may not be a problem at central distribution stations or during transit through main distribution pipelines, water can be tainted as it passes through secondary systems leading to individual neighbourhoods and homes.

Lead content in drinking water has, since 1999, been subject to a strict European directive, but the problem of how to measure it remains unresolved. A number of different sampling procedures have now been evaluated under a recent EC-supported study. "The results, while highlighting the complexity of the problem," says Ierotheos Papadopoulos of the Commission's Environment Directorate-General, "can now serve as a basis for an agreement on a common sampling method."

For more on the monitoring and controlling of lead, see the article on the European Research News Centre website:

Swimming in clear water

A recent report indicates that water quality at coastal and inland bathing resorts is improving, but the lack of standardised microbial measurement methods has left the results in dispute. Once again the importance of a common and recognised measurement and testing system has been made glaringly apparent.

A number of studies have been or are being carried out to assess the disparities between the various methods in use and to identify a standard procedure that all laboratories could adopt. According to Bert Van Maele of the Environment Directorate-General, the next Commission bathing water directive is expected to make specific reference to a CEN (European Committee for Standardisation) or ISO standard.

For more on swimming in clear water, see the article on the European Research News Centre website:

   The bottom line - principles and resources

As in many areas, when setting priorities for M&T research, clear objectives and guiding principles must be kept in mind. Results reporting must remain a crucial aspect of policy-related metrology research. The results of funded research have to be provided to the relevant Directorates General of the European Commission, standardisation and regulatory bodies and all other stakeholders in a timely and appropriate manner. A strong European M&T infrastructure should include research networks capable of giving scientific advice whenever asked, forming the basis for relevant early warning systems. And then, of course, there is the provision of appropriate funding.

Previous monitoring and assessment panels have commented upon the profound importance of the M&T activity. For example, the report of the independent High Level Panel, chaired by Viscount Etienne Davignon, stressed the role of metrology, underlining the uniquely high European added value of research in support of M&T standards.

With this is mind, various assessment panels have recommended that the Commission increase the allotted budget for this activity due to the increasing demand for standards and harmonised measurements in Europe. In its conclusion to the Strategy Note, entitled, "A European Research area oriented activity", the High-Level Expert Group for Measurements and Testing stated, "It is advisable to reinstate within the next Framework Programme, the Standards, Measurements and Testing activity as a horizontal and co-ordinating action with a larger budget", a conclusion echoed by the recent five-year assessment of the Competitive and Sustainable Growth Programme.

Forward to the future

The definition of future M&T research tasks requires a pro-active approach. It has to include consultations with a wide range of stakeholders, including a number of the Commission's Directorates-General , standardisation bodies, in particular the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), regulatory authorities, industrial and trade organisations, and other international bodies such as EUROPOL and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The High-Level Expert Group has recommended that M&T research concentrate on the following three priority areas:

  • Trade - A common M&T structure is a prerequisite for the proper functioning of the single market and for world trade as a whole. The M&T activity supports, among other things, the development of mutual recognition agreements in order to lift trade barriers and to resolve trade disputes.

  • Competitiveness - M&T is needed for industrial product and process development, control of production processes and quality assurance including conformity assessments. Additional important areas for industry are in the monitoring of compliance with existing legislation, for example, in the fight against counterfeiting and illegal imports and in the area of environmental protection. Progress in measurement sciences, including the development of validation procedures and measurement standards are crucial for the industrial development of emerging technologies, such as nanotechnologies.

  • Safety - More and more, measurement and harmonisation are playing important roles in health care, food safety, consumer protection, improving safety at work, monitoring environmental hazards, improving product safety, etc. They are also important for legal safety by contributing to detection of a range of criminal and other illegal activities such as doping in sport, food adulterations, sale of fake and inferior products, etc. As for customs laboratories, support is needed both in terms of research and infrastructure improvements for forensic investigations.
M&T and the European Research Area (ERA)

The primary goals of EU-supported M&T activity have been to contribute to European consensus building and harmonisation while ensuring the impact of obtained results on the development and correct implementation of Community policies and regulations. These are inherently European aims and, in this respect, research in measurements and testing is a highly ERA-oriented activity. M&T activity contributes to the vision of a united, competitive, sustainable and safer Europe, underpinning the very development of our society, including scientific progress, industrial development and globalisation of trade and policymaking.

Work is currently underway towards the development of a unified chemical metrology infrastructure in Europe, covering industrial, environmental, food and health sectors, and an effort is being made to prepare laboratories in the candidate member states for their tasks in adopting and implementing European directives. Finally, the possible creation of a 'Virtual Institute' for metrology has been suggested, placing measurements and testing at the forefront of the new wave of ERA-building activities.

Building on experience
Research Priorities
Certified reference materials (CRMs)
The bottom line - principles and resources
Forward to the future
M&T and the European Research Area (ERA)

Key data

Research in metrology is covered under the Measurements and testing generic activity.


ISOTRACE - Detection of illegal drugs by isotope ratio mass spectrometry;
NITE-CRIME - Development of a detector for ultra-low radioactivity measurements in biological and medical fields such as cardiac imaging;
BUBBLES - Development of a Continuous On-line ultrasonic Technique for the Detection of Air Bubbles in Casting Slips (Slurries);
SVEN - Sound quality of vehicle exterior noise;
BEQUALM - Biological effects quality assurance in marine monitoring;
STADNAP - Standardisation of DNA profiling techniques in the European Union;
LASERART - Non-intrusive laser measurement techniques for diagnostics of the state of conservation of frescoes, paintings and wooden icons;
SGLC/MS - Steroid glucuronides; development of liquid chromatography-mass spectrometric analysis;
WASWAT - Wastewater certified reference materials for quality control of trace element determinations;
BROC - Biological reference materials for organic contaminants.

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