Logo of the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt


125 years of PTR and PTB: This was the paramount event of 2012 having a profound impact on the past year. 125 years of highest precision, progress and reliability in metrology, the science of measurement and its application represent a highly impressive success story, which we fittingly savoured in March in a commemorative event with more than 1000 guests, 240 of which came from foreign countries. Then in October, we were also able to dedicate our "physics jewel case", the "Observatory", which was restored in time. At the time of its first occupancy in 1891, it was the most progressive physics laboratory in the world, a building of impressively well-proportioned symmetry and elegance, while at the same time possessing the greatest possible functionality, the domain of Hermann von Helmholtz’ who, together with Werner von Siemens, founded the PTR and became its first president.

The "new Observatory", a highly modern research building, and its use for the development of metrology in medicine, symbolizes, together with many additional, best-equipped PTB laboratories and other new fields of activity in the realms of energy, environment or nanotechnology, the change in metrology and its unbroken, yes, even continually increasing importance for science, the economy and society, even after 125 years.

PTB, as one of the worldwide leading national metrology institutes, impacted and promoted the change also in the past year not only through numerous outstanding scientific findings, but rather shaped it quite considerably through calibrations and testing at the highest level for society, the economy and science as well as through competent collaboration in numerous committees, not least, also Europe-wide and internationally.

Atomic clock comparisons over information superhighways almost 1000 km long, a reference wall for the micrometre-precise calibration of three-dimensional length measurement systems for the largescale equipment industry, innovative counters and accounting methods for electromobiles, absolute length measurements at ultra-low temperatures for aerospace applications, a new primary standard to determine the concentration of red blood cells, detailed computations for protecting the eyes against ionizing radiation, the highly precise measurement of the electromagnetic fields of THz scanners at airports, of MRT systems (Magnetic Resonance Tomography) in clinical application, or of radar installations in aviation are only a few examples of progress in modern metrological research and development which illustrate their enormous spectrum.

The redefinition of the base units, which will then retain their validity – to quote the visionary words of Max Planck from the year 1900 – "for all time and for all, even extraterrestrial and "extra-human" cultures", is certainly in the truest sense of the word a millennium project of metrology, in which PTB is participating with its projects "Avogadro", "Boltzmann", "Ampere and Quantum Metrology Triangle" in a cutting-edge manner. Material for four additional spheres made of isotope-enriched silicon, decisive progress in the preparation of the spheres, in the highly accurate measurement of the isotopic composition, volume and surface quality, as well as the efforts to redetermine the lattice constant mark the milestones for expanding the leading role of PTB in the determination of the Planck, i.e. the Avogadro constants. Moreover, with respect to the base unit ampere, new methods for efficient error detection in single-electron transport as well as the successful closure of the so-called quantum metrology triangle have set new standards in this field.

Also in legal metrology, an important breakthrough is indicated in the form of the now prospective passing – after efforts made over the course of years – of the new Weights and Measures Act for the more than 108 million measuring instruments subject to mandatory verification in Germany, to which PTB has made very important contributions and worked together outstandingly with the leading department in the Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Technologie (BMWi – Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology). It is intended that the Act which, together with the Units and Time Act, continues to assign PTB a key role in legal metrology, will come into force at the beginning of next year. In the socalled "Regelermittlungsausschuss", with PTB presiding, the responsible federal state authorities, conformity assessment bodies, state-approved test centres, trade and consumer associations will make important decisions regarding non-European-regulated measuring instruments.

It was again possible to significantly increase the fundraising of third-party funds and, therefore, PTB’s area of operation continued to be considerably expanded. This applies particularly to the Metrology Research Programme funded by the European Union as well as to the field of Technical Cooperation, both of which are of great strategic importance in terms of the European and the international significance of metrology and of PTB. However, this is also extended to numerous individual projects with industry, to project funding by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG – German Research Foundation), the Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Technologie (BMWi – Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology) as well as by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF – Federal Ministry of Education and Research).

The indispensable precondition for the future success of PTB is, on the one hand, a sufficient number of permanent posts to fulfil its legal tasks. Here, at least partial success can be announced: in 2013, the cutback of established posts will be reduced which will, for the first time in a long time, open up to us at least some organizational leeway. On the other hand, however, PTB needs adequate framework conditions. Here the "Wissenschaftsfreiheitsgesetz" (Academic Freedom Act), which came into force on 1.1.2013, and the "Pakt für Forschung und Innovation" (Pact for Research and Innovation) (period of validity: 2011 to 2015) for non-university research institutions marked the beginning of a new era for more autonomy, direct responsibility and planning reliability. In spite of the mutual and strong support from all the large scientific organizations, it was not possible to include PTB or other federal research institutions in the scope of application of the law.

It is merely a case of granting similar needs-based measures for greater flexibility; previously this could unfortunately only be implemented to a limited extent. In case this continues to be unsuccessful, the concern is justified whether PTB will also in future be able to maintain its cutting-edge technological position in metrological service and research in an increasingly competitive scientific environment.

Thus, we have left behind us 2012, an exciting, eventful year characterized by considerable progress and impressive retrospective views. In my case, it was associated with numerous new impressions and personal contacts, but also partially – when any time remained at all for reflection – with a little nostalgia which the nearly complete taking leave of my "previous world" brought about. The fascination of the – for me – new "world of metrology", the unreserved friendly reception from all "PTBists", their dedication, their enthusiasm and helpfulness, for which I would like to extend my warmest thanks, as well as the outstanding work of Ernst Otto Göbel, my predecessor in office, have indeed made the new beginning easy for me.

Joachim Ullrich

To top