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Improving Safety Measures and Measures of Safety for World Metrology Day 2012

NIST engineer Kate Remley holds two Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) devices with wireless alarm capability.

NIST engineer Kate Remley holds two Personal Alert Safety System (PASS) devices with wireless alarm capability.

Credit: Copyright: Paul Trantow/Altitude Arts

World Metrology Day celebrates the signing of the Treaty of the Meter on May 20, 1875.* By signing the treaty, representatives from 17 nations, including the United States, recognized the importance of worldwide uniformity of measurements and established a collaborative global framework for the advancement of measurement science. Each year, World Metrology Day is organized and celebrated jointly by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), which serves as the hub of national metrology institutes such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the International Organization of Legal Metrology (OIML), an intergovernmental treaty organization that promotes harmony in legal metrology.

The theme of this year's celebration is "Metrology for Safety." Measurement plays a key role in ensuring that products—e.g. cars, paints, food and medicines—and processes such as medical procedures, are safe. As the U.S. national metrology institute, NIST creates standard reference materials, improves measurement tools, develops performance metrics and advances metrology so that the nation has the best safety measures and measures of safety.

The range of NIST's measurement work devoted to safety is vast. As manufactured nanoparticles become increasingly prevalent, NIST is developing the measurement technology to evaluate their impact on the environment and human health.

At the same time, NIST is also developing the measurement tools needed to unlock the therapeutic potential of nanostructured materials.

At the level of things we can see, NIST concrete, sensing and engineering research is helping to improve the safety of our roads, bridges and buildings.

NIST standards are used to calibrate millions of medical machines such as MRIs, PETs, CATs and X-rays to make sure patients are getting the proper exposure, no more and no less. NIST scientists are also looking at ways of increasing the sensitivity and accuracy of these machines.

In the area of public safety and security, NIST provides law enforcement, first responders and the military with standards, research and testing protocols to support a host of technologies that will make their jobs easier and safer and enable them to protect others more effectively. NIST research into robotics, radio communications, electronic translation, radar, explosive and chemical detection, and body armor will help to make everyone safer.

Fire research at NIST is comprehensive, including fire retardants, firefighting equipment and strategies, fire behavior, fire detection and fire investigation.

NIST's tests of crash avoidance systems and metallurgical and metal forming studies will help to make cars—and their drivers—safer on the road.

NIST cybersecurity and cryptography efforts are vital to protecting data and securing communications in the United States and around the world. NIST administers the Secure Hash Algorithm competition; maintains the National Vulnerability Database; regulates computer security and information processing standards for the civilian federal government through a number of programs, including FISMA and FIPS; and works with industry to establish a National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC). Along with these conventional approaches, NIST is also a world leader in the development of adapting the strangeness of the quantum world to computer and communications security.

This is just a small sample of the kind of work that NIST and national metrology institutes around the world perform to make measureable improvements in safety and security.

NIST will be celebrating World Metrology Day on May 21, 2012, with a colloquium highlighting these and other NIST programs dedicated to creating a safer world. This World Metrology Day, we ask that you take a moment to reflect on how important accurate measurement is to your life and our civilized, industrial society. After all, without accurate measurement, we wouldn't be able to say how far we've come.

We hope you have a safe and happy World Metrology Day.

* Originally posted on May 17, 2012.
Released May 17, 2012, Updated January 18, 2023