Scientific measurement is forefronted by MeASURe

15 Sep 2017 - 16:00

The art and science of measurement is at the heart of a new URC-accredited research unit recently established in the Department of Physics: MeASURe, the Metrological and Applied Sciences University Research Unit.

The focus of MeASURe is on applications which require novel measurement techniques, and on research which advances the fundamental reference standards for measurement. “It an appropriate time to launch MeASURe,” says the Director, Professor Andy Buffler, “since we are presently witnessing a redefinition of the SI base units which underpin all measurements.” In the new SI, four of the base units (the kilogram, the ampere, the kelvin and the mole) will be redefined in terms of fixed numeral values of four fundamental constants of nature: the Planck constant, the elementary charge, the Boltzmann constant, and the Avogadro constant.

“Within MeASURe, we are working with the National Metrology Institute of South Africa (NMISA) on instrumentation which will lead to new standards for current and mass for South Africa,” adds Professor Buffler. The recent acquisition of an 8 mK dilution refrigerator by the Department of Physics allows the realization of the new quantum electrical standards right below the foyer of the RW James Building. We have also constructed a table-top Watt Balance which is the precursor to the new reference for mass for South Africa, replacing the arcane artefact, the International Prototype of the Kilogram, held in a vault in Paris.”

Another major activity within MeASURe is associated with the applications of neutron beams and gamma-rays. The Department of Physics operates a laboratory which uses PET scanners for fundamental studies of fluid flow, and is working with iThemba LABS and NMISA to establish the world’s first fast neutron beam reference facility to be accredited by the ISO. Other present projects span medical radiation physics, nuclear engineering and physics-based simulations of radiation and materials.

“We will be looking for new partnerships within UCT and beyond,” adds Professor Buffler, “and we envisage the unit to grow to become a portal into UCT for problems which require novel measurement-based solutions.”

The Department of Physics also has led the teaching of the ISO-recommended framework for measurement and uncertainty for over a decade, and MeASURe will provide education-based services for metrology education and the new SI.

Andy Buffler, Mark Blumenthal, Katie Cole, Tom Leadbeater, Steve Peterson and Trisha Salagaram.