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Happy World Metrology Day!!

May 20, 2013

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Contact: Mark Esser
(301) 975-8735

(Originally published on May 20, 2013.)

Measurements define your daily life. From the amount of toothpaste in the tube to the calories in the bagel to your weight on the scale (it’s not our fault you ate that bagel!), not to mention all the engineering that went into making those things, measurements are involved in every moment of every day of your life. In fact, you wouldn’t be reading this at all without measurements. And that’s why the theme of this year’s World Metrology Day is “Measurements in Daily Life.”

Man pumping gas
We can’t control the price of gasoline, but NIST measurements help to make sure that you get what you’re paying for at the pump.
Credit: Arena Creative/shutterstock.com
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World Metrology Day celebrates the signing of the Treaty of the Meter on May 20, 1875. By signing the treaty, representatives from 17 nations, including the United States, recognized the importance of worldwide uniformity of measurements and established a collaborative global framework for the advancement of measurement science.

Each year, World Metrology Day is organized and celebrated jointly by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), which helps to promote international metrology with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the International Organization of Legal Metrology (OIML), an intergovernmental treaty organization that promotes harmony in legal metrology.

Because every aspect of modern life depends in some way on measurement, there’s virtually no aspect of American life in which NIST is not involved. And for the sake of brevity, no attempt will be made to recount them all. (However, if you’re curious, see this brief rundown.) But in the spirit of World Metrology Day, here are a few of the ways that measurements, and NIST measurements especially, impact your daily life.

In the past year, NIST has sold 33,000 standard reference materials and performed 17,000 calibrations that help to ensure that you aren’t overexposed when you get an X-ray and that the nutritional information on your frozen French bread pizza or other food is correct.

NIST also provides the standards and training that your state weights and measures officials need to ensure you’re treated fairly in the marketplace and that you get what you pay for at the grocery store and the gas station and anywhere else where you buy products that are sold by quantity.

We have also been making sure that your clocks that rely on our standard cesium clock in Boulder, Colo., are getting the signal.

Besides a clock, you also probably have a laser pointer for, well, pointing at things and driving your pets crazy, but did you know that many of them do not meet their own labeled standards for levels of both visible and invisible light and that you should never shine them in your eyes or anyone else’s eyes (or your pet’s eyes)? Now you do.

Heavy metals (not the headbanging kind) such as lead are bad for your health and the health of your children. While it’s impossible to completely remove lead from our environment, we can alleviate the risk to our children by giving the people who make sure their toys are safe the tools they need to detect small concentrations of lead.

So set your watch and play with your kids (and pets!) this World Metrology Day and think about how all those measurements add to your life.