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PTB Annual Report 2019


Last year will stand out in the history of metrology as a special year: as the year in which the fundamentally revised International System of Units (SI) came into force. Lengthy and highly challenging research and development work, focusing on four of the SI units (the kilogram, mole, kelvin and ampere), came to fruition on 20 May 2019. From that date on, all these base units have been defined in the best way they possibly can be: as quantum measures. The scientific community acknowledged this in its own way, as proven by numerous invited lectures at international conferences and award-winning publications in prestigious specialist journals. At this point, I would like to give my heartfelt thanks and congratulations to all of my colleagues – from the individual divisions to the press office – for the great work that they put into this truly global project. The fact that the new SI has come into force does not only signify a goal that has been achieved, it also signals the starting point of another task that is no less challenging: These new definitions now have to be filled with life in practice, meaning that the units have to be passed on using this new foundation, and the inherent promise of technological innovations also has to be kept. We and all of our partners will certainly not run out of metrological work either now or in the more distant future.


Last year did not only look well into the future as far as the SI goes. At our Strategy Conference, we also identified fields of work that go beyond the boundaries of PTB’s divisions. We will better pool our metrological expertise in these fields of work both within PTB and externally, and we want to use this expertise more intensively for the good of the economy and society. The five fields of work we are referring to are “digitalization”, “quantum technologies”, “medicine”, and “energy” along with “the environment and climate”. All these terms define subjects of enormous social relevance, which already massively influence almost all parts of our lives and will do this to an even larger extent in the future. It is true that the scope of all these fields of work reaches far beyond metrology, but at the same time, these fields cannot be dealt with adequately or effectively without metrology. As a logical result of this, we are following a route that has structural consequences for PTB. By establishing corresponding Steering Groups, we will better coordinate our current and future activities in these fields of work and find out what they require from metrology. All these Steering Groups have now taken up their cross-divisional work. While doing so, they have been able, to varying degrees, to build on existing structures that were already well established. The “Big Five” will certainly be among the fields of work that will determine the routes that PTB will take in the long term.

A word that significantly shaped the past year in many ways is “trendsetting”. For example, it characterized the route that was taken in legal metrology, increasingly building on digitalized and virtualized metrological services. The whole field of quality infrastructure – with its pillars of metrology, standardization and accreditation – is experiencing a fundamental change that goes far beyond Germany and is significantly influenced by PTB. It is not only in Germany that work is being done on a “QI Digital” agenda. Within the Metre Convention, there is a working group headed by PTB which is advancing work on the “digital SI”. This is, among other things, taking place in close cooperation with the OIML, whose President, Mr. Schwartz, has placed digitalization on its agenda. Two international workshops, one organized by the CIPM and the other by the OIML, will, in 2020, determine the route for the future agenda of digitalization.

Much work was prepared for the future in 2019, and at the same time, last year gave us the opportunity to look back at many success stories. This included 30 years of cooperation with CENAM in Mexico, as well as the metrological cooperation between China and Germany that has existed for 40 years. Another noteworthy anniversary was related to telling the time, to be more precise, to telling the time with the atomic clock CS1. It began ticking 50 years ago and, so to speak, rang in the “quantum age of metrology”.

PTB will continue with this and other success stories, of that I am certain. This is because we are able to base our work on a wealth of expertise and experience, because our staff are highly committed and, above all, because there is a growing wider realization that, without metrology – especially in many future fields of application from 5G to hydrogen technology, autonomous driving and medicine – “nothing will work”.

If we want to stay as successful as reflected in our public image, we also have to frequently take a critical look inwards. Are we working with the right structures? Is everything being communicated properly and in a suitable way? Are we focusing on and do we value those who are essential to PTB – the people who actually do the work? For this very reason, we carried out an extensive staff survey last year. The results of this survey are now being analyzed. Once this has been done, we will use the results to develop follow-up measures.

My heartfelt thanks go to all of PTB’s staff for last year’s achievements. I sincerely hope that we will carry on doing those things that were successful and that we will remain just as committed to pursuing new things. In this way, we will all shape the future both in and with PTB.

Prof. Dr. Joachim Ullrich
Präsident der PTB

Printversion of Annual Report 2019

News of the Year 2019

News of the Year 2019News of the Year 2019

Stylized representation of a nuclear clock based on a transition in the atomic nucleus of heavy thorium-229. The principle of this clock consists in exciting the nucleus with laser light. In the background: Section of the table of nuclides around thorium-229. (Source of picture: Christoph Düllmann, JGU Mainz)

PTB’s researchers, together with international colleagues, have secured a prestigious Synergy Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for the development of an entirely new atomic clock – the thorium nuclear clock. A thorium nuclear clock could be significantly more accurate than all the previous caesium clocks and – also – than all the previous optical atomic clocks.

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Dental drilling guide produced by additive manufacturing for the drilling of holes to fit dental implants into artificial jaw models with only few abutment teeth. The drilling angle α and the drilling depth were measured by means of computed tomography.

Medicine is placing high expectations on implants and auxiliary materials that are manufactured specifically for each individual patient. Nearly any complex shape can be produced by means of additive manufacturing (3D printing). Before starting to use such implants widely, the medical sector and certification bodies demand proof of the fact that their high quality is matched and will remain stable...

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The response of the therapy dosimeter (in this case: the microDiamond detector; see arrow) was characterized two-dimensionally by mounting it in air directly under the exit in the focus of the microbeam and positioning it with a computer-controlled X-Y table. The eective detector thickness was determined by varying the proton range in the detector chip using layers of aluminum foil as absorbers and by recording the detector signals.

Advances in radiation therapy are leading to ever better ways to irradiate even small tumors precisely and to spare the surrounding tissue. For this highly exact task, radiation devices and radiation plans are metrologically verified by means of therapy dosimeters before use on patients. New, very small dosimeters which are appropriate for this application were at the focus of PTB’s research:...

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One of the newly developed high-precision pressure balances

Scientists from PTB have implemented a novel method for pressure measurement – quasi as a byproduct of the work on the "new" kelvin – and have reported about it in Nature Physics. The method is based on measuring the density of the measuring gas helium by means of a capacitance measurement. The degree to which gas between the electrodes changes the capacitance of a highly stable, special...

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Digital PCR requires a large number of reaction chambers that are all of the same size. Droplet-based dPCR uses a water-in-oil emulsion that is generated in microfluidic structures.

The concentration of pathogenic microorganisms is an important parameter when medical decisions need to be made. the number of microorganisms (e.g. viruses or bacteria) can be determined by counting certain genetic sequences in a sample. The digital polymerase chain reaction (dPCR) is a method that is perfectly suited to counting these genetic sequences directly and to measuring concentration in a...

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Using mammography, suspicious structures in breasts can be detected and treated early on. (Photo: dpa)

In mammography screening, the risks posed by the X-rays used must be carefully weighed against the potential gain of a timely breast cancer diagnosis. e rule of thumb: the higher the applied radiation dose, the better the resulting image quality and, therefore, the greater the likelihood of reliably recognizing breast cancer at an early stage. For this reason, an objective measure of image...

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In MRI, the tissue-specific relaxation time T<sub>1</sub> is used as a quantitative marker. T<sub>1</sub> describes the time-dependent behavior of the nuclear spins after they have been excited by means of a magnetic AC field. The figure shows the T<sub>1</sub> map of the heart of a healthy volunteer and that of a patient.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an important imaging procedure in cardiology. To date, only qualitative imaging of the heart has been possible with MRI, since the measuring time is limited due to heart movements and breathing. A new image reconstruction procedure has therefore been developed at PTB. This method quantifies the biophysical parameters of the cardiac muscle with high spatial...

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As regards the worldwide harmonization of the certification of legally regulated measuring instruments, the year 2019 can be considered as a thoroughly successful year: By the end of the year, 37 measuring instrument categories had been covered by the new certification system of the OIML (Organisation Internationale de Métrologie Légale), and more than 350 certificates had been issued.

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From Divisions (German only)

From DivisionsFrom Divisions

Mechanik und Akustik (Abteilung 1)

Bestimmung kleinster Dichteunterschiede von 28Si-Kugeln nach der Methode der Druckflotation.

Elektrizität (Abteilung 2)

Optisch angesteuertes pulsgetriebenes Josephson-Spannungsnormal: Schaltung mit 3000 Josephson-Kontakten (links) und schnelle Photodiode mit optischer Faser (rechts).

Chemische Physik und Explosionsschutz (Abteilung 3)

High-Speed Laserinduzierte Fluoreszenz

Optik (Abteilung 4)

Präzisions-Ionenfalle des neuen optischen Yb+-Frequenznormals.

Fertigungsmesstechnik (Abteilung 5)

Neuartiges Verfahren zur Kalibrierung von Gewinden unter der Verwendung eines ganzheitlichen Ansatzes

Ionisierende Strahlung (Abteilung 6)

3D Darstellung der Ortsdosisleisung eines technischen Röntgenstrahlers gemessen am Röntgenstrahlermessplatz der PTB.

Temperatur und Synchrotronstrahlung (Abteilung 7)

Langwegzelle für die optische Gasdruckmessung (PTB-Patent)

Medizinphysik und metrologische Informationstechnik
(Abteilung 8)

Fluoreszenzbild eines künstlichen Fußes (Phantom) zur Überprüfung der Funktionstüchtigkeit einer Fluoreszenzkamera zur Untersuchung von Durchblutungsstörungen.