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Where accuracy is at home - 125 years of PTB

On 27 and 28 March 2012, the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a symposium and a ceremonial act in the Braunschweiger Stadthalle (Braunschweig Civic Centre)


Invitation to the press for the symposium and the ceremonial act


If you want to know how to measure truly accurately, the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) is precisely the place to be. And this is not just the case nowadays, but rather it has been so for precisely 125 years. When the first budget of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt (PTR), the predecessor of PTB, was approved on 28 March 1887, this was the birth of the first state-run, non-university, major research institution and the beginning of a metrological success story that hasn't ended yet by a long shot. On this occasion, PTB, the National Metrology Institute of Germany (NMI) is celebrating its birthday on 28 March 2012. PTB is celebrating with a political ceremonial act at the Braunschweiger Stadthalle (Braunschweig Civic Centre) and - on the day before - with a scientific symposium which, as expected, people from all over the world will be attending.

Since 1887, the founding year of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt (PTB's predecessor), accurate measurement has had an institutional home.

The term "accuracy" has accompanied PTB since its founding and to this day it is its most prominent trademark. When one thinks of today's PTB, one immediately thinks of "time". Although even physicists have been unable to uncover the secret of time, it is possible to measure time more accurately than anything else in the world. When thinking of the PTR and the end of the 19th century, one would perhaps first think of another pinnacle of accuracy: the measurement of the heat radiation of the so-called black bodies (objects that completely absorb all light). These results were so accurate that they were able to uncover contradictions in the "classic" world view of physics prevalent at that time. The measurements could only be explained by a new theory (Max Planck was able to do this a short time later) which "quantized" thermal radiation, i.e. divided it into packages of a certain size. This was the birth of quantum theory. It then took decades before this "crazy" theory which describes the microscopic world under the smooth macroscopic surface as grainy and layered and in which our usual logic is rendered powerless, was understood and accepted. Today, quantum mechanics is the best description that we have of reality, and our high-tech world could not be imagined without its applications - from the computer chip to the laser and to satellite navigation.

Nowadays, accuracy is in demand at all levels to push developments in the right directions: whether in industrial processing or for the diagnostic methods of medicine, whether in chemical analysis or in fundamental scientific research. Metrology, the science of accurate measurement, is in demand at all these levels and in all these disciplines, and far beyond. The scientific symposium "Metrology, the Universe and Everything" (the title is based - in a tongue and cheek manner - on Douglas Adams' book "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy") will highlight this broad field of tasks on 27 March in the Braunschweiger Stadthalle (Braunschweig Civic Centre) in several survey lectures, without claiming to have the final answers to the very first questions. As regards content, the symposium spans an arc, from the growing importance of the fundamental constants for the definition of the physical base units to the concrete metrological applications in our everyday world. At the conclusion of the symposium, the most important prize in metrology, the Helmholtz Prize, will be awarded. (The symposium is open to the public; however, prior notice of attendance is requested.)

The actual anniversary ceremonial act on 28 March (also in the Braunschweiger Stadthalle (Braunschweig Civic Centre), beginning at 10 am) is less a matter of scientific accuracy, but perhaps more a matter of accurate scientific-political classifications. Following the welcome address by Prof. Dr. Joachim Ullrich (PTB President since the beginning of this year), several speeches given by leading politicians from the federal government, the federal state and the city are on the agenda. The commemorative lecture will be given by the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, Prof. Dr. Klaus von Klitzing, who has been closely connected to PTB since his discovery of the quantum Hall effect and who holds the office of vice-president of the PTB Kuratorium (Advisory Board). A short scientific historic lecture on 125 years of PTR/PTB will be given by Prof. Dr. Ernst O. Göbel (President of PTB from 1995 to 2011).

Media representatives are cordially invited to this ceremonial act. For security reasons, however, we must request (and we hope for your understanding here) you to submit your credentials to us in advance. Please inform us of your participation in the ceremonial act by Thursday, 22 March 2012, at the latest, via e-mail to: presse@ptb.de. Thereby, please give us your complete name, your date of birth and place of birth, and which editorial office you represent for the ceremonial act. Since many people will be attending, we request you to come early (if possible by 9:30 am) and register at the entrance to the Stadthalle Braunschweig (Braunschweig Civic Centre).

For further information:
The detailed programmes of the symposium as well as of the ceremonial act and further information on PTB's anniversary can be found on the web site: www.ptb.de/125jahre


Dr. Ekkehard Peik, PTB Department 4.4 Time and Frequency, phone: +49 (0)531) 592-4400, e-mail: ekkehard.peik(at)ptb.de

PTB is grateful to Douglas Adams ("The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy") for the realization that not every answer (e.g. 42 as the answer to the "Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe and Everything") has to please the person asking the question.