EUROPE: Agreement on joint metrology promotion

Metrology, the science of measurement, has not figured largely in European research activities but that may change now the EU member states have promised money in support. Singing its praises for a range of business and industrial sectors, the EU Council of Ministers agreed that metrology was a cross-disciplinary scientific field and a vital component of a modern knowledge-based society."

No surprise then that the council backed plans by the European Commission to set up a legal and administrative systems to operate "large-scale cooperation on metrology research and responding to growing demand in Europe for cutting-edge metrology, particularly in emerging technological areas."

Clearly metrology means a lot more than ensuring that pre-packages of food, paint, detergents and other products are precisely the same size in every EU country, though this is not unimportant. In today's hi-tech world, however, there is a growing need to ensure measuring devices used in manufacturing industry, medicine and numerous scientific research activities throughout the EU meet the most exacting standards of accuracy and reliability.

The importance of this had already been grasped by 19 of the 27 EU member states (including all the larger ones) which, along with Norway, Switzerland and Turkey, set up national programmes in recent years to advance the science.

The council has not been hugely impressed, commenting that the national initiatives "are not sufficiently coordinated at European level and do not allow for the gathering of the necessary critical mass requested in strategic R&D areas".

A consequence was the formation by the 22 countries of the European Metrology Research Programme "to respond to the growing demands in Europe for cutting-edge metrology, particularly in emerging technological areas, as a tool for innovation, scientific research and policy".

The project has now become an official beneficiary of funds from the EU's 7th research framework programme with the EU matching the contribution of the participating countries to bring the budget up to EUR200 million (US$280 million) plus EUR100 million reserve funding for the seven-year project. Further funds from the European Investment Bank and other sources have been pledged if this proves necessary.