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Metrology for Capacity Building - Interview with Paul Hetherington

Paul Hetherington, Convenor of EURAMET's working group on capacity building

National Metrology Institutes (NMIs) and Designated Institutes (DI) in countries across Europe have varying levels of measurement expertise and capability. EURAMET has established a Capacity Building strategy to bridge the gap between institutes that are actively involved in the development of new measurement technologies, and emerging institutes that have relatively limited resources. Using several capacity building instruments an important goal of EURAMET is to develop an integrated metrology system, helping NMIs and DIs around Europe to meet their stakeholders’ vital needs.

To realise its vision, EURAMET has set up a Board of Directors working group for capacity building – and Paul Hetherington has recently been appointed as its new convenor. Paul is the Head of the Irish National Metrology Laboratory (NSAI), a member of the NSAI Senior Management Group and an eight-year-long member of the Board of the Irish National Accreditation Body (INAB). As a physics graduate who has worked in the field of metrology for over 30 years, Paul has previously been the Chairperson of EUROMET - EURAMET’s predecessor - in addition to acting as the EURAMET Delegate for Ireland and serving a period of three years on the EURAMET Board of Directors. Currently, he is also on the EURAMET Editorial Board. Paul has been a member of the capacity building working group since its early inception, prior to his promotion to the new convenor. 

In the following interview, Paul Hetherington talks about the importance of capacity building and brings light to the role of the Board of Directors working group in carrying out EURAMET’s knowledge transfer objectives. 

Why is metrology important in general? For instance, where can we find metrology in our daily lives?

Measurements have been carried out for as long as civilization has existed. Reliable measurements, fit for purpose, have always been a requirement for an organised society. Measurements are part of our daily life and their results affect decisions in many disciplines. Trade, environment, energy, communication, health & safety - to name just a few - all rely on sound measurements and need to be supported by an appropriate measurement system. Metrology and systems of reliable measurement units and standards are often a hidden part of a country’s infrastructure - but are no less important than elements like transport systems, energy provision and telecommunication. Traceable measurements enable nations to trade globally, provide the necessary infrastructure to protect consumers, support industrial development, and underpin innovation and research across various sectors. 

Today, reliable measurements are essential for almost all forms of human activity. Ever-growing societal demands for better measurement techniques, equipment and uncertainties are driving research and innovation in metrology – with particularly high demands coming from major developments in new materials, the growing importance of miniaturised products, trends around big data, advances in system interoperability, and increased automation. 

Why is it important to develop measurement science expertise – what benefits does it have for Europe?

Measurement science is critical for supporting European trade, underpinning innovation and providing the necessary infrastructures to protect European citizens. Measurement science plays an important role in ensuring that Europe experiences economic growth in an environment where its citizens are safe and protected, while at the same time meeting the demands of global challenges - like climate change - in a responsible manner. European development would be stymied without an appropriate, fit-for-purpose, metrology infrastructure.

EURAMET has already implemented many routes for advancing measurement science around Europe. Why are capacity building projects in particular important, what is their focus or purpose?

Among EURAMET members, we have quite a diverse range of National Metrology Institutes with varying histories. Some have been in existence for over 100 years, while others are in their early stages of development. It is essential for developing NMIs and for established NMIs – that may be building new capabilities in emerging areas - to be able to access the appropriate expertise, training and co-operative research opportunities to ‘fast-track’ their development. I think this is the key function of capacity building in EURAMET. 

Planned and coordinated capacity building utilises the wealth of experience and technical expertise that is already present in many EURAMET member NMIs, to develop capabilities in the most efficient and effective manner. Capacity building provides emerging NMIs (that are establishing services in an emerging technology) the chance to get involved in research activities, thereby offering critical technical input into some large research projects. 

Another key role of capacity building is to facilitate and accelerate the integration of member NMIs and DIs into EURAMET's activities, while improving the management and planning of European metrology infrastructures to bring about intended outcomes in the most timely, economic and efficient manner.  

Why was the working group established? How is it helping to realise the objectives of EURAMET’s Capacity Building strategy? 

The group was established to provide a forum for emerging NMIs to work together to discuss common issues and problems, and to provide a mutually beneficial framework for technical cooperation. To date, the group has worked very well to provide a forum for proposing research activities and prioritising training activities.

What are your plans for the working group during your term as the convenor? 

I want to see the working group continue with the work and strategies undertaken by my predecessor. I would like to see a strong capacity building element in any follow-on EMPIR type programme, for which I will encourage active participation from all members. I will also be trying to encourage new members to join our group so they can benefit from its technical activities. The working group is an integral part of EURAMET and needs to work closely with EURAMET’s Capacity Building Officer and other groups within EURAMET to ensure that there is a common understanding of issues, and an agreed-upon approach for addressing them. 

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