Metrology Careers Blog

Careers in measurement science.

Metrology and Energy 06/24/2014

Filed under: In the News!,Modern Marvels — Georgia Harris @ 5:17 pm

Wind turbine turning on a stormy dayThe theme of the 2014 World Metrology Day is “Measurements and the Global Energy Challenge”.

Get more information here:

See a YouTube video about it here:

There are links to a number of previous year videos here:

Enjoy! (more…)

Modern Marvels – Health and Fitness 03/08/2011

Filed under: Modern Marvels — admin @ 12:08 pm

090702-N-1783P-003Our standards for health and fitness in the United States continue to rise. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle as well as providing effective medical care when things go “wrong” is all possible as a result of accurate measurement, calibration, and the field of metrology.

Effective treatment of medical health conditions such as obesity relies on the use of measurement technologies including blood pressure monitors, body fat ratio calculators, caloric intake and consumption technologies.  Body fat can be simply defined as the percentage of fat that the body contains. While a certain amount of body fat is essential for normal body function, too much body fat leads to increased risk of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart problems. There are many different ways to measure body fat, ranging from fairly high tech to very simple.

Did you know, you are using metrology to find your body fat? The body mass index (BMI) is a better measure of body fat than a standard bathroom scale because it takes into consideration the weight to height ratio. A BMI of less than 18.5 is underweight, 18.5 to 24.9 is normal, 25 to 29.9 is overweight, and over 30 is obese. One potential problem with BMI is that it tends to overestimate the body fat of people with a lot of muscle mass, such as Olympic athletes, and tends to underestimate the body fat of people who have lost muscle mass, such as the elderly. Despite these exceptions, however, BMI is considered an accurate assessment of body fat in the majority of people.

No matter which method you use to measure your body fat, normal body fat measurements are generally considered to be 18-30% for women and 15-25% for men. If fat levels fall any lower, there is a lessened ability to cushion organs and store certain vitamins, and an increased risk of osteoporosis. Any higher, and there is a risk of cardiovascular disease.  Triggered by stress, lifestyle and hereditary factors, high blood pressure is a major problem today. It is vital that we use a pressure monitor to have our blood pressure checked from time to time to prevent cardiovascular disease. Breathing, heart rate, weight regulation, body temperature and blood pressure are all regulated subconsciously by Metrology.

Shivering is another function our body employs to regulate body temperature. Our bodies shiver in an effort to keep ourselves warm. Our brain both consciously and subconsciously detects cold simultaneously through different sensory systems, which prompts the body to shiver — the sensory system that prompts the shiver isn’t the same as our conscious detection of cold. Our body attempts to maintain our core temperature of 37 degrees C (98.6 degrees F), despite ambient temperature. In an attempt to avoid hypothermia where our body temperature is lowered to dangerous levels, our muscles are prompted to contract and expand quickly, resulting in a shiver. This in turn produces more heat in the skeletal muscles to provide extra warmth to our organs. It does use a lot of energy, and severe shivering is a last resort in an attempt to stay warm. Along with shivering, your teeth may chatter due to tightening jaw muscles.

Avoiding extreme temperature shifts is important in health management. These measurement techniques are established by the science of Metrology and result in ongoing innovations that help keep us healthy.


Modern Marvels – Aerospace

Filed under: Modern Marvels — admin @ 12:06 pm

plane doing trick 2

If you’ve ever gone to an airshow and experienced the thrill of pilots performing death-defying aerobatics with their airplanes, then you’ve seen machines and people pushed to their limits. This is Metrology at work. Indeed, the entire aerospace industry couldn’t exist without Metrology. From calculating how air moves over a wing to create the lift that allows an airplane to fly, to satellites relaying the signal from your cell phone around the world, they all depend on measurements being precise. Students of physics and aerodynamics are taught that airplanes fly as a result of Bernoulli’s principle, which says that if air speeds up, the pressure is lowered. Thus a wing generates lift because the air goes faster over the top, creating a region of low pressure, and thus lift.

When an airplane is on the ground not moving, there is not enough air flowing around it to create lift. Another force is needed to get the airplane moving through the air, so that the airflow can do its job of creating lift. This force is called thrust. Thrust propels an object in a particular direction. The arm of a baseball pitcher generates trust and applies it to a baseball (that is, throws it) towards a batter. Likewise, a jet engine generates thrust and, because it is attached to the wing of an airplane, its thrust will be applied to the airplane. So, as the engines thrust the airplane in the direction that they are pointed, air flows over and under the wings which creates the lift force. If enough lift is generated, the airplane will fly. The 747-100 has a maximum thrust capacity of 22,545 kg and a lift capacity of 333,400 kg.

Thrust, like any other force, is measured in either newtons or pounds. Jet engines are usually rated according to the amount of thrust they can produce. Although internal combustion engines also produce thrust by means of the propeller, those used on vehicles are usually described in terms of the amount of power they produce, expressed in horsepower.

Precise measurements and control technology are required for launching vehicles that can break gravity and enter space. It’s precision application combined with raw thrust power that allows rockets to obtain orbit. NASA’s space shuttles typical payload capacity is about 22,700 kilograms. The shuttle’s two solid rocket boosters each provide 12.5 million Newtons of thrust at liftoff, which is 83 % of the total thrust needed for liftoff.


Modern Marvels – Automobile Safety

Filed under: Modern Marvels — admin @ 12:05 pm


Road traffic accidents kill more than one million people a year worldwide, injuring another thirty-eight mil040403-N-5862D-182lion (5 million of them seriously). The death toll on the world”s roadways makes driving the number one cause of death and injury for young people ages 15 to 44. Road temperature and composition can make driving challenging because surfaces become wet or covered in ice and snow thus raising the traffic accident risk.

A case study done by the Finnish Meterological Institute, used mobile measurement tools that determine temperature to measure roads before and after salting which reveals how the road slipperiness improves after the road maintenance.

The driving route as about 12 kilometers long and the same road stretch was measured three times. The first measurement drive started at 18:21 and the road was very slippery because of a thin ice layer on the surface. The second drive started at 19:11 and grip was improved significantly. The last drive was at 19:37 and the grip was still improved. Road surface temperature was quite stable during all measurement cases. This example presents how quickly the road conditions improved after salting because the ice layer melts.

Mobile measurements give valuable information about the variation of road surface temperature and road condition with very high resolution in space and time. Road condition improves quickly after road maintenance operation and should be taken into consideration every time YOU get behind the wheel.

Car manufacturers spend enormous amounts on innovations in car safety. Measuring how cars crash helps us make safer cars, saving lives and reducing injury. In stadium sized test labs cars are wired with an impressive array of sensors and sent speeding into collisions so researcher can accurately measure everything from the relation of speed and direction and occupant injury, to minimum safety standards of impact speeds and forces of motion, to interior road noise and vibration. Every component of these cars is tested relative to safety and comfort. The safest cars are noted as being able to reduce impact speed through measured innovations in crumple zones, air-bags, and occupant seat belts.


Modern Marvels – Video Gaming

Filed under: Modern Marvels — admin @ 12:03 pm

iStock_000008889390XSmallVideo games have come a long way since they were first introduced in the early 1970s. Over the years, primitive coin operated games such as Pong, developed by Atari in 1972, eventually led to the Play Station, X-Box and internet-based multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft and Halo. Although the game playing experience of today’s games is dramatically different from those of yesteryear, they all have something in common. At their heart, they’re all computer programs dependent on highly accurate programming and production standards.

Computer games can be thrilling and feature beautiful graphics. However, none of that would work if the computer’s programs weren’t designed with the highest quality and reproducibility. But it’s not just the code that has to work. Some games require amazingly complex mathematics to do things such as calculating the physics of how objects in the game react to one another, rendering objects to look realistic and even communicating with other computers on the Internet.

With the introduction of WiFi communications, gamers can connect to the Internet within a range of wireless networks on their laptop computers, mobile phones and iPads. Digital meters help gamers determine the signal and power strength of their connection. The higher the decibels (dBm) on a transmitter, the stronger the signal strength. Low signals around -84 or -96dBm on receivers is usually the threshold at which point the signal is no longer detectable in consumer WiFi. So, a lower rating means a more sensitive receiver, being able to receive and decode weaker signals.

A video game based almost entirely on tracking measurements is “Wii Fit.” The interactive game comes with the Wii Balance Board, which is a wireless board that senses small shifts in posture and weight placement so that an onscreen character mimics your movements. The Balance Board, which resembles a bathroom scale, has gyroscopic technology and multiple sensors built into it. Gyroscopic technology measures shifts in weight based on the conversion of angular momentum. Angular momentum measures the extent to which an object rotating around a reference point will continue to do so until acted upon by some outside force. The onboard sensors estimate the value of a user”s body mass index (a proxy for human body fat based on an individual”s weight and height) and center of gravity (spatial orientation.) Weight is not an absolute as it is relative to local gravitational fields. For example, an object with a mass of one kilogram and of a weight of 9.8 (N) or Newton’s on the surface of the Earth, is about six times less on the Moon.

The Wii Balance Board goes beyond simply calculating your body mass index; it also tracks your overall progress in terms of your fitness age. A person”s Wii fitness age is calculated by factoring his or her body mass index, performance during balance tests and overall center of gravity. Many players find that tracking their progress makes “Wii Fit” more fun to play. Users want to be as fit as possible in the eyes of the game so that, like in any other video game, they can claim to be the best. The game is also designed to inspire players into setting personal goals, which help them stick to their “Wii Fit” exercise routines. Without Metrology, your favorite video games couldn’t exist.


Modern Marvels – Medical Scanning 02/08/2011

Filed under: Modern Marvels — admin @ 1:58 pm

Infrared thermometry is widely used in many industries. The standard of calibration for infrared thermal measurement is called a black body. A black body is an idealized physical body that absorbs electromagnetic radiation. Because of this perfect absorptivity at all wavelengths, a black body is also the best possible emitter of thermal radiation, which it radiates incandescently in a characteristic, continuous spectrum that depends on the body”s temperature. The object appears black, since it does not reflect or emit any visible light.

The development of medical thermal scanning technologies has also found applications in the areas of fire fighting, maintenance of mechanical equipment, as well as any facility dependent on well controlled temperatures.

Other examples of technologies impacted by the field of metrology include incredibly detailed x-ray capabilities allowing doctors to effectively diagnose illness which plays a critical role in the future of healthcare. Many medical scanning technologies emit different types of radiation as part of the way they determine critical measurements. The average annual radiation exposure from just medical diagnostics is about 310 millirem per person. Yet this is only 5 0% of the expected annual exposure per person. Normal and safe amounts of expected radiation come from a variety of sources. Did you know that a person flying in an airplane can receive more radiation than someone who lives near a nuclear plant? Flying in an airplane reduces the atmospheric shielding from the sun and cosmic radiation. You receive about 1 millirem of radiation for each 1,609.344 km you fly. Conversely, people living near a nuclear power plant only receive 0.009 millirem per year.

An MRI machine uses a powerful magnetic field to align the magnetization of some atoms in the body, and radio frequency fields to systematically alter the alignment of this magnetization This causes body cell nuclei to produce a rotating magnetic field detectable by the scanner—and this information is recorded to construct an image of the scanned area of the body. A typical scanner has a magnetic field strength of 3 teslas (T) or about 50,000 times greater than the Earth’s field.


Modern Marvels – Automobile Racing

Filed under: Modern Marvels — admin @ 12:21 pm

Every season, racing teams strive to gain more speed and better performance from their cars. Today’s racing cars can often exceed 321.87 kilometers per hour. Race cars have some of the most sophisticated performance modifications available. Each car is built from the ground up with performance tuning in the motor, drive train, suspension, and braking system. Cars and drivers are pushed to extreme limits that require precise measurements and tolerances.
Micrometers are used to take critical measurements of engine parts during construction. In general, ultrasonic measurement of cylinder bore thickness and other engine block walls with a properly set up instrument is calibrated with an accuracy of ±0.12 mm or better. Cockpit gauges that drivers rely on during a race give the necessary electronic feedback , and even the tire pressure.

Continuously, measuring the race car tire pressure as often as possible is a priority. Although low pressure (of about 1.1 kg/cm2) allows the tread to grip the track better and provides a greater contact area, a variation of just 0.2 kg/cm2 can “ruin” the performance of the car. In order to ensure the lowest possible variations in tire pressure (heat increases the pressure), Formula One tires are filled with a special mixture of gasses.
Like all technical requirements on race cars, calibration and measure tolerances for braking is critically important. Just 4 seconds is the amount of time it takes for a Formula One car to go from 300 km/h to a complete halt. Under these heavy braking periods, a driver is subjected to a horizontal deceleration of close to 5.4 times the force of gravity of “G’s”.

The automobile racing industry is an industry that is strictly based on skill and vehicle performance. Extremely accurate electronic feedback from the engine to the car’s steering console and data display allows drivers to monitor and adjust real-time settings on the car’s most critical performance parameters.


Modern Marvels – Smart Phone Technology

Filed under: Modern Marvels — admin @ 8:14 am

“Smart phones are only “smart” because of a combination of technologies, such as advanced computing, precise timing, and GPS.

Many different pieces of technology have been developed to measure time, one of the key elements in the operation of GPS systems. They vary from the ancient hourglass to the most modern digital watches and wall clocks. However, did you know that you can never really know the exact time using any of those devices?

All modern electronics depend on accurate, repeatable timing. However, did you know that there is only one reliable device that gives the exact time, and that is an atomic clock? Atomic clocks provide the highly accurate time and frequency standards needed to control the frequency of television broadcasts and global navigation satellite systems such as GPS. In 1999, the National Physical Laboratory in England began operation of an atomic clock with accuracy to about one second in 20 million years, making it the most accurate atomic clock ever made.

Without the precise accuracy of an atomic clock, the series of 24 satellites that work together to determine exact locations on Earth, would not be able to provide the precise measurements needed to give correct directions through your car’s GPS system or allow you to use your Smartphone. Each nanosecond, a billionth of a second, of error translates into a GPS error of one foot. A few nanoseconds of error may not seem like much, unless you are landing on an aircraft carrier or targeting a missile.

Metrology’s role in assuring the continued accuracy of time-based measurements is a critical element of our everyday life and is the foundation for the advancement of future technologies that rely on precise