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PTB Annual Report 2021


Keep your distance, follow the rules on hygiene, wear a face mask, and air rooms regularly – with these rules that are new to us all and that all of you helped us to implement consistently at PTB, we have taken control over the SARS-CoV-2 virus at PTB! Apart from a short hard lockdown in our Berlin Institute during the early weeks of the pandemic, we were able to keep our operations going to the greatest possible extent. The infections at PTB were and are at a comparatively low level: In 2020, a total of 22 members of our staff were infected with COVID-19, and these infections occurred almost exclusively outside PTB. We were able to perform our central services and to make progress with our many ongoing research projects. This was all accomplished by introducing flexible operating modes, upgrading our room ventilation concepts, and massively expanding the ways we work from home. We also faced a steep learning curve on how to use our e-files and how to carry out videoconferences, and we found countless creative ways of resolving issues relating to the things we do every day.


My very special thanks go to PTB’s extremely committed Crisis Management Team, as well as to all of you for your discipline, for your understanding, and your sensible and considerate behavior. In the last 12 months, we put a lot of effort into internal communication. This included updating our intranet page, letters from the Presidential Board of PTB, intense communication between the Presidential Board and the division heads, as well as setting up a dedicated corona hotline. It was possible to reach the hotline at all times, and one of the roles it took on was that of PTB’s “inhouse health authority” – it correspondingly traced the contacts in each individual case of COVID-19.

Despite – and perhaps even because of – COVID-19 and the reduced amount of traveling, we found the time to think fundamentally about the future of metrology and to set the course for the important issues of the future. There are many often “disruptive” developments in society, the economy, and not least in metrology that are no longer just situated within a single, narrowly restricted subject area or are limited to individual measurands. In the future, a large number of sensors and measuring procedures will rather be linked in autonomous vehicles, in the supply networks in the “city of the future”, and in “customized medicine”. Hundreds or even thousands of units of measuring data will be the basis for decisions that are prepared using artificial intelligence procedures. All of this means it is necessary to characterize and understand things metrologically, and it is also necessary to think holistically. With this in mind, we elaborated a proposal for an Innovation Center for Systems Metrology (IZSM) together with PTB’s Advisory Board (Kuratorium). In November 2020, this proposal was submitted to the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), backed by a recommendation from the whole of the Kuratorium. This groundbreaking concept is going to help PTB tackle future metrological challenges in its role as one of the world leaders in metrology. In collaboration with PTB, the IZSM will contribute to considerably reducing the development cycles for disruptive technologies, strengthening the innovation capabilities of Germany, and increasing confidence throughout the world in innovative networked products that are “made in Germany”. More than 130 years after PTB’s predecessor, the PTR (Imperial Physical Technical Institute), was founded (a predecessor which crucially helped to make the words “made in Germany” synonymous with “quality”), PTB is taking another courageous step towards shaping the future!

Issues such as digitalization, renewable energies, “green” hydrogen, quantum technologies, medical physics, and biochemistry are going to play a crucial role in this future. We have addressed these issues with our steering groups and have pooled all the activities PTB is undertaking on these topics. With this preparatory work as a basis, we and our partners from the region launched the “Quantum Valley Lower Saxony” in record time. Together we want to realize a quantum computer within the next five years, basing our research on technology that has been developed at PTB and with funding amounting to € 25 million from the state of Lower Saxony and the Volkswagen Foundation. Along with the further development of our Quantum Technology Center, we are at the forefront of such future technology!

In addition, all of our cross-sectional issues were also prominently positioned in the German government’s economic stimulus package, so that we were well prepared and able to immediately put forward detailed proposals to support this stimulus package. A substantial total of approx. € 90 million has been estimated as the amount needed to realize this stimulus package. Whether our proposals will be accepted remains to be seen. The additional funds for the above-named issues would certainly signify a great chance – not only for the further development of Germany, but also for the further development of PTB.

Just how much our ideas, our potential, and our proposals are heard, specifically in the fields of politics and the economy, is also a question of communication. This is why we sought advice on this from an external agency last year. They helped PTB to fine-tune its mission, its values and its core messages in order to identify more exactly who PTB’s key stakeholders are and to discuss possible communication measures. Apart from the Presidential Board and the heads of the organizational units, it was especially PTB’s staff, all of you, who actively took part in this process. This consisted of a large number of interviews, several in-house workshops, and two events centering on PTB’s mission which were held in both Braunschweig and Berlin. A big thanks goes to all of those who contributed to these events so much.

PTB’s mission focuses on three values in particular: precision, objectivity, and a passion for measurement. We want to continue to fill these three values with life in the coming year – and we will unfortunately still be doing this under “corona conditions” for quite some time. We will, however, also overcome these challenges together. Hopefully we will be able to put important concepts for the future into practice with funds from the economic stimulus package, and perhaps we will be able to take the first steps towards setting up the IZSM. We can expect 2021 to be an exciting year which is rich in opportunity!

Prof. Dr. Joachim Ullrich
Präsident der PTB

News of the Year 2019

News of the Year 2019News of the Year 2019

Prof. Dr. Piet O. Schmidt has received a 2.5 million euro ERC Advanced Grant from the EU for a five-year project that will seek to use optical clocks to shed light on some fundamental questions: Is our description of nature complete? What is dark matter? Do natural constants vary with time or location?

Theoretical predictions attest that optical clocks based on highly charged ions, which are...

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Still under construction, the Quantum Technology Competence Center (QTZ) at PTB will serve as an important base for industrial developments. Pictured here is the new building as planned for the Braunschweig site.

In 2021, PTB expanded the existing team at its newly founded Quantum Technology Competence Center (QTZ) by adding six more posts. Together with partners from industry, the QTZ supports the targeted transfer of various quantum technologies to economically viable applications. It acts as a central contact for industry at the interface between scientific research and application-related development.

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Fabrication of ion trap quantum processors at PTB. Pictured here: Dr. Amado Bautista-Salvador of the QUEST Institute's Trapped-Ion Quantum Engineering research group.

Quantum computers are expected to solve problems that are beyond the capabilities of even today’s most advanced supercomputers. Around the world, the development of quantum computers is in full swing. The two most promising technology platforms for realizing the quantum bits are trapped ions and superconducting circuits. PTB is placing intense efforts into the trapped ion technology. In 2021, the...

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Comparisons between ytterbium and caesium atomic clocks in different places (x) and at different times (t) have confirmed the stability of natural constants.

A natural constant should always have the same value, regardless of when or where it has been determined. And Einstein’s theory of relativity exploits this fundamental assumption too, which is known as local position invariance (LPI). Scientists from PTB have now confirmed the validity of LPI by means of a clearly improved experimental test. These investigations were motivated by modern string...

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Photo: Shutterstock

To ensure that high standards of quality and reliability also apply in a digitalized world, PTB is helping to develop a digital quality infrastructure at the German, European and global levels.

This includes the development of internationally accepted data formats that enable digital traceability to the International System of Units (SI). With this aim in mind, the International Committee for...

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Illustration of the complex interrelationships when using artificial intelligence in medicine. The quality aspects (left) are the prerequisite for obtaining the approval for using them in the different application areas (right).

The development of digital products and services that use artificial intelligence (AI) has greatly accelerated since the start of the digital transformation. AI techniques could be the solution to many medical challenges: For example, imaging procedures generate large volumes of data which are unmanageable for physicians whereas an algorithm can assess them within seconds. But however high the...

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The European metrology institutes cooperate closely under the umbrella of EURAMET e. V. (Figure: Shutterstock)

Challenges can be mastered best by joint research and a clustering of competences. On this basis, metrology institutes have been joining forces under the umbrella of EURAMET e.V., the European association of national metrology institutes, for many years. Research programs which are co-financed at the European level have been central to providing aid here. Following approval by the European...

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Advanced manufacturing methods make use of the potentials of the digital transformation to ensure product quality in flexible manufacturing infrastructures. (Picture credits: Adobe Stock / metamoworks)

The production sector is the backbone of Europe’s industry with about 2 million companies and more than 30 million people working in this area. To keep this sector fit for the future and to master challenges such as the digital transformation and sustainability, the EU is supporting research on advanced manufacturing. A variety of elements such as the use of new materials, 3D and 4D printing,...

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Founding member countries of the EMN for Radiation Protection. The color scale indicates the respective contribution in the form of staff capacities. The total number of staff corresponds to more than 220 fulltime equivalents (FTEs).

The societal importance of radiation protection is growing: More than 23 million people around the world are exposed to ionizing radiation sometime during the course of their work. Natural radiation is everywhere and affects everyone. Moreover, radiation protection is becoming ever more intricate and diverse: Given the latest developments, such as pulsed radiation in medical, industrial or...

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Steelmaker Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH wants to significantly cut its carbon emissions by using hydrogen produced with renewable energy. The company is collaborating with PTB to develop precision gas flow metering for green hydrogen. (Photo: Salzgitter AG)

In the battle against climate change, the role of hydrogen – and green hydrogen in particular – is becoming ever more important. Whether for power supply, for transportation or for industry, hydrogen can help us to significantly reduce the amount of fossil fuels we burn. In Germany, the steel industry's share of greenhouse gas emissions is significant, at about 6 %, which is why this sector is...

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From Divisions (German only)

From DivisionsFrom Divisions

Mechanik und Akustik (Abteilung 1)

Elektrizität (Abteilung 2)

Chemische Physik und Explosionsschutz (Abteilung 3)

Optik (Abteilung 4)

Fertigungsmesstechnik (Abteilung 5)

Ionisierende Strahlung (Abteilung 6)

Temperatur und Synchrotronstrahlung (Abteilung 7)

Medizinphysik und metrologische Informationstechnik
(Abteilung 8)