At around 70 percent, the proportion of research work at PTB is larger than all the other tasks (e.g. providing services). Yet PTB is not only a renowned research establishment in Germany, it also enjoys a high standing in Europe and throughout the world.
PTB in the world of research
PTB is formally managed as a subordinate authority in the business domain of the Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Technologie (Federal Ministry for Economy and Technology) (BMWi) and is thus included in the so-called "Ressortforschung", meaning departmental research which is funded by the German state. PTB however does not see itself as a "classical" government agency, and it does not behave like one either. It is much more an R&D establishment which also has a sovereign service task that is defined in 23 laws and ordinances. The research work at PTB is thereby always molded by metrology, application-oriented as a matter of principle, and therefore it is clearly distinguishable from purely fundamental research. Its very special methodological approach makes PTB an important partner sought after for various cooperation projects with universities and non-university research institutions. Within the German research landscape, PTB plays a central role because of its metrological competence. It can however only fully meet these expectations, if the same rules of play apply to it as to all the other research partners.
"Classical" metrology (i.e. metrology dominated by physics) permanently faces the task of extending the measurement ranges and of reducing the measurement uncertainties. Yet other disciplines – such as chemistry, biotechnology and medicine – have been knocking on the doors of metrology for a long while. And ultimately metrology also has a duty to contribute to finding a solution to the major challenges of our time – health, energy, the environment, safety and mobility – which are the important issues here. One single national metrology institute alone could not shoulder this quantity of tasks all by itself. A group process has therefore been initiated in Europe and is now well on its way: for the first time most of the European metrology institutes have pledged themselves to cooperate on current and future research and development work and to undertake the resulting projects jointly. The European Commission is supporting this objective on a large scale. The partners' own contributions have to be just as high as the EU support. As the largest metrology institute in Europe, PTB shoulders – in accordance with its size – around 40 % of the funds to be raised. The results so far have confirmed the ambitious expectations. The tendency is clear: metrology research, which was formerly mainly national, is becoming European.
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PTB, with its almost 2000 staff members, is the largest metrology institute in Europe and one of the fifth largest institutes of this type worldwide. Right from the start of its history stretching back over 125 years, much importance was put on extensive and excellent research work at PTR/PTB. It is therefore not surprising that PTB enjoys a good reputation throughout the world. In 2002, an Evaluation Committee confirmed its "generally very good scientific reputation, along with its integration in the national, European and international environment". And in 2008, the German Council of Science and Humanities pronounced that: "At PTB, the R&D work accomplished as well as the science-based services rendered are overall of very good, in part, of excellent quality. The Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt is scientifically and technically at the forefront of the internationally leading national metrology institutes (NMIs). With its R&D projects, it contributes significantly to the further development of metrology. The basis of the considerable performance profile of PTB is the high degree of competence and the visible motivation of the scientific staff, the excellent resources of PTB with its research infrastructure as well as impressive R&D management."
In accordance with its international importance, PTB is strongly involved in the organs of the Metre Convention*. PTB President Prof. Dr. Joachim Ullrich is a member of the International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM) as well as the President of the Consultative Committee for the International Units (CCU).
The Metre Convention
The Metre Convention is a contract which was signed by 17 states in 1875 and is regarded as a milestone for implementing the metric system internationally. It led to the founding of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) and its General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM). Both these institutions are still responsible for the international standardization of the SI today.