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Opinion

Metrology is Life

The science of measuring is also that of competitiveness

The future of citizens of the world nowadays is inextricably linked to numbers and measurements. Exposed to the natural demands of a consumer society, we do not notice perhaps what lies behind the “correct weight and accurate measures” is notable work by technical and scientific society, playing an essential role in the progress of science and the broad progression of economic and social development focusing on the common good. These citizens perhaps don’t even know that the mere fact of accepting or challenging the results of measurement during the course of their lives makes them natural partners of these organizations. This is what happens when you need to take your child’s temperature; the physical and chemical properties and characteristics of human blood; the time exposed to radiotherapy; the accurate reading of the most rudimentary scales making trade possible; the fees of basic and essential consumer services such as the supply of water, electricity, telephones; as well as the countless other circumstances where measurement directly or indirectly affects our pockets, our work and our lives.

In this context, we can state that technical and scientific societies are engaged in making the function of numbers more human, through conceptual discussion as to their validity, seen in the concern to quantify in order to qualify. Qualifying products and processes for citizens; for life therefore. Using metrology to measure air quality, food, medications, basic consumer products, in the environments of city and country dwellers and everything that may directly or indirectly affect the lives of citizens is to consolidate science and technology as political instruments of safe and responsible social reform. The benefits to the community produced by scientific societies are countless. Today’s “factual description” that already incorporates the concept of physical quantity established by James Clerk Maxwell (1873) in his Treatise on electricity and magnetism, emerged to base  the axiomatic establishment of new algebra (quantity calculus) able to correlate “units of measurement” and “physical size”, at that time a concept of impasse and controversy in discussion in scientific societies. It was this basic fundament, interrelating mathematical expressions and incorporating the experimental regularity of physical laws, that enabled Helmholtz to establish the theory of measurement based on earlier work by notable physicists and mathematicians, allowing him to put forward that the ability to carry out direct empirical measurement is considered the essential property of physical size itself.

In the field of the science of measurement, scientific and technological forums interested in finally creating a universal measurement system, including not just the fields of mechanics and electricity, but thermal and thermodynamic phenomena, photometry, radiometry and chemistry, have been strengthened. This could be seen as a crucial strategy for enabling the sciences to be integrated, culminating in universal understanding of metrology as the science of measurement or as the science of competitiveness because of the importance of technology as an element in overcoming technical barriers to the development of international trade.

Maurício N. Frota, of PUC-RJ, is the President of the Brazilian Metrology Society

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