How do we know how to measure anything?

Can you imagine what it would be like to make any scientific discovery or invention without measurements? Nearly impossible. But it’s not enough to simply agree on units of measurement. These have to be consistent, reliable and standardized in order to enable international collaboration and interoperability. There is a science to measurement, and it’s called metrology.

Today (20 May) is World Metrology Day. Inspired by the rapid pace of change in measurement science and the world around us, this year’s event is dedicated to “Measurements in a Dynamic World”. The Day, organized by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) and the International Organization of Legal Metrology (OIML), draws attention to the importance of metrology in scientific discovery and innovation, industrial manufacturing and international trade, as well as in improving quality of life and protecting our planet. And that is because, simply, without reliable measurements, we would live in a world of uncertainty and chaos.

Standardization in metrology is not only about defining measurement units. ISO/IEC Guide 99 provides an international vocabulary of metrology and offers a common reference for scientists and engineers, teachers, practitioners, and any other individual or organization involved in planning or performing all types of measurements.

Many ISO standards contain guidance on various measurement processes, to ensure consistency everywhere, every time. “Metrology is one of the pillars of quality infrastructure,” says Sean MacCurtain, Secretary of the ISO Conformity assessment committee (ISO/CASCO). For example, if the measurements you make on a product for strength are not right, it may break or malfunction. Or if your oven temperature has not been calibrated at the factory, your baking may not turn out well.

Metrology is therefore an important component in determining the conformity of many products and forms the basis for calibration and testing. Moreover, without legal metrology, consumers would never be sure they are getting the product or service they think they are getting. Otherwise, how would you know the kilogramme of flour you just bought is actually… a kilogramme of flour?

Both the BIPM and OIML are actively involved in ISO committees relevant to metrology. World Metrology Day is an annual celebration of the Metre Convention, signed in Paris on 20 May 1875 by representatives of 17 countries to set the framework for global collaboration in the science of measurement and its industrial, commercial and societal applications. The original aim of the Metre Convention was ensuring the worldwide uniformity of measurement. Today, in our dynamic world, this remains as important as ever.

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