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Home > News > Industry News > UK national measurement lab st.....

UK national measurement lab steps out from the shadows, for UK PLC

  • Author:Ella Cai
  • Release on:2017-09-22
The UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is to actively engage with industry to improve national measurement and data quality.

Its aim is to “help the UK become a world-leader in emerging technologies such as 5G, quantum devices and graphene, and harness the power of big data for social and economic good”, said the laboratory, which has over 500 scientists and is world-leading – ranking equal to the US National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST) and National Metrology Institute of Germany (PTB).

However, it is “one of the nation’s best kept secrets”, NPL CEO Dr Peter Thompson told Electronics Weekly.

National measurement

The shift to actively marketing the lab amongst potential users follows Government industrial strategy and a survey of over a thousand organisations – SMEs, RTOs (research and technology orgaisations), and larger organisations including Rolls Royce and GlaxoSmithKline – which revealed many had not heard of NPL, or didn’t know it provided services to industry.

These services are based on accurate measurement and maintaining the integrity of measured data – over its century of work it has has spun-out diverse inventions – packet switching, caesium atomic clocks and Turing’s 1950 Pilot ACE computer were all born there.

As examples of what it is doing today include:

Creating the ISO standard for graphene – as industry does not have a common language for the material. For example, said NPL, ‘three-layer graphene’ is much talked about, but ill-defined, slowing commercialisation because it cannot reliably be bought for research.

Along the way, the lab has: developed a toaster-sized laser interferometer for a company that wants to measuring samples of graphene flakes during manufacture, and is developing a graphene-based real-time hepatitis diagnosis tool and a sensor to detect allergens in food manufacture.

With partners including the national 5G telecoms lab (5GIC) at the University of Surrey, NPL is performing fundamental data link measurements that will under-pin 5G specifications in a project called Met5G.
“Existing 3G and 4G networks were introduced without the relevant measurement infrastructure and standards in place, meaning that there was no traceable way of proving a connection. This led to problems when exporting technology, stifling innovation and damaging trade,” said the Lab. “NPL is making sure this doesn’t happen with 5G. Met5G is developing and testing new infrastructure, signals and the real-world environmental factors affecting 5G performance.”
It has built a quantum metrology laboratory to accelerate commercial exploitation quantum-based technologies.

NPL is a company, whose only shareholder is the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

It has three main sources of finance:

Government contracts
Large-scale collaborative research programmes
Products and services to individual companies