Research programme addresses Europe's 'metrology dilemma'

A new European metrology research programme with an overall budget of at least €400 million could be underway by the end of 2009. 

The scheme, unveiled by the European Commission on 3 December, is intended to help scientists across Europe integrate their work on measurement standards, avoiding wasteful duplication.   

According to the Commission, there is a ’metrology dilemma’ in Europe. Although metrology is a priority in almost all national programmes, ’European countries are operating their national metrology research programmes in full isolation,’ the proposal states. The area is ’largely fragmented’ and ’duplication of research clearly exists,’ it says.        

’It is pretty clear that governments are spending very significant amounts of money on metrology research,’ says Kamal Hossain, a member of the EU committee proposing the programme and director of research and international co-operation at NPL, the UK’s national measurement institute. ’Everyone wants to be involved in the most attractive areas but we are not making the most of it if we don’t join the activities together. We can eliminate a lot of duplication with a European programme, create a critical mass and raise common ambitions,’ he says. 

The plan proposes to pool funding and integrate the national metrology research programmes of 19 EU countries including the UK, as well as outsiders Norway, Switzerland and Turkey. 

’If it can standardise all the measurements in Europe, the programme can only be a good thing,’ says Ritu Kataky, a chemical metrologist at the University of Durham, UK, who works on clinical analysis for healthcare. ’Everyone uses different instruments and everyone’s measurements are different in Europe.’ 

The Commission is planning to fund half the programme’s proposed €400 million budget from the EU’s Framework 7 research programme. The rest, some €200 million and a €100 million reserve budget, would be met by the countries themselves. 

Three types of awards are envisaged, funded through a series of calls for proposals. Research grants would be open to all participating and Framework 7 countries while grants for mobility and early stage researchers would be targeted mainly towards national institutes of metrology. The grants would be distributed according to the strength of research proposals and not national boundaries. 

Discussions on a first call in the area of energy, environment and sustainability are already underway. The research agenda will be set by a committee of national metrology institutes and should be finalised by spring 2009.        

The programme needs the approval of EU member states and the European Parliament before it can go ahead, and has yet to be timetabled into their work agendas. 

Saffina Rana