Innovation in most areas of science and technology
depends on the ability to make accurate and verifiable measurements. At
the same time, cross-border collaboration requires the adoption of calibration
and measurement standards that are either internationally recognised or
easily cross-referenced. The objective of MERA, an accompanying measure
to the GROWTH programme, is to intensify current co-operation in metrology
research and lay the foundations for its further development in an integrated
European Research Area (ERA).
The availability of measuring equipment and the ability
to use it are essential to scientists as a means of objectively documenting
the results they achieve. Metrology is probably the oldest science in
the world; knowledge of how it is applied is a fundamental necessity in
practically all science-based professions, as well as in most other aspects
of daily life. Indeed, weighing and measuring accounts for a remarkable
6% of Europe's combined gross national product.
||Pressure to change
Most countries have specialised laboratories,
usually known as 'national metrology institutes' (NMIs), which maintain
the national measurement standards and often serve as the legal
references in measurement matters. The NMIs constantly carry out
R&D to improve the national measurement capability, disseminating
the results through commercial services such as the calibration
of measuring equipment and the establishment of traceability chains
enabling measurements to be related back to primary standards.
Traditionally, enterprises, authorities and
institutions would tend to rely on their own NMIs and governments
prioritise the research they fund based on national requirements.
But, with the emergence of scientific disciplines such as nanotechnology
and biotechnology, which require new metrological capabilities,
national capacities and budgets are coming under increasing strain.
Spreading resources ever more thinly over more and more topics raises
serious concerns about critical mass for research, even on existing
priority topics. In addition, the possibility to carry out Internet
calibration , whereby measurement data can be exchanged between
points anywhere in the world, presents a major challenge to the
way NMIs traditionally operate.
Moreover, successfully linking human activities
together across geographical and professional boundaries depends
on confidence in the underlying metrological infrastructure. This
confidence is enhanced with the increased use of network co-operation,
common units of measurement and common measuring procedures, as
well as the recognition, accreditation and mutual testing of measuring
standards and laboratories in different countries.
Since 1988, 25 NMIs representing the EU, EFTA
and EU applicant countries, plus a further 24 corresponding members,
have collaborated within EUROMET
, an organisation with the objective of promoting the coordination
of metrological activities and services. Current collaboration includes
the international comparisons to ensure the adequacy of the primary
measurement standards, and increasingly participation in joint research
MERA, a project co-ordinated by the UK's National
Physical Laboratory , aims to build on this basis by developing
plans that will lay the foundation for an integrated European Research
Area (ERA) in metrology. Partners will explore options for greater
collaboration in research, shared use of facilities, increased mobility
of researchers and more effective exploitation of results.
An initial state-of-the-art-review will provide
a clear understanding of current levels of co-operation, while a
simultaneous survey will identify the main areas where future metrology
research is already envisaged.
Several scenarios will then be proposed, offering
a choice of co-operation models such as networks of excellence and
virtual institutes. One or more decision making tools will also
be developed for use at national level to aid the identification
of activities that each NMI/government considers would benefit from
A workshop hosted by the Dutch NMi Van-Swinden
Laboratory and involving all EUROMET members and other laboratories
that contribute to the national measurement systems will present
the findings and feature a trial run of the decision tool. Interested
NMIs can then define their own views on the establishment of an
aligned metrology infrastructure in Europe.
Consultation with industrial end users at a
national and European level will enable 'customers' to voice their
opinions regarding the effects of any eventual infrastructural changes.
The applicant states will similarly be consulted
to ascertain their views on the impact of greater interdependence
in metrology. "We have not so far received sufficient support
for metrology, so MERA is useful start in this direction,"
says Dr Pavel Klenovsky of the Czech NMI, Cesky
Metrologicky Institut . "More importantly, it will help
us to adapt our systems in preparation for accession."
A position paper identifying the key issues
and summarising the national, industrial and applicant state positions
will form the input for a second workshop hosted by the German Physikalisch-Technische
Bundesanstalt (PTB) , providing a forum in which outline plans
for the construction of the ERA in metrology can be agreed.
Finally, a foresight report will summarise and
justify the conclusions of the project, providing specific recommendations
for the NMIs, their funding agents and the Commission on actions
needed to implement the plan.
"Today, no-one thinks that one laboratory
can provide all of the answers," observes co-ordinator Andy
Henson. "What is needed is a combination of sufficient critical
mass to ensure research of the highest standards and effective knowledge
transfer including efficient local delivery. We are confident of
obtaining the commitment from the NMIs and the funding bodies through
the MERA project. We will then be ideally placed to use one of the
new instruments, such as the Networks of Excellence proposed in
the Sixth Framework
Programme , to build a true European Research Area for metrology,
with everyone reaping the benefits."
International collaboration on the development
of reliable and reproducible measurement is crucial in enhancing
Europe's ability to conduct leading-edge science and technology
projects. The Growth Programme supports these activities with
its Generic Activity in 'Measurements
and testing' .
MERA - Planning the European Research Area