Philosophical Society of Washington

Metrology, the Science and the Philosophy

H. Steffen Peiser
National Institute of Standards and Technology

2069th Meeting Abstract
Friday, February 07, 1997 at 8:15 PM


Measurement with lowest achievable uncertainties in relation to an internationally agreed framework of units is widely held to be the lackluster occupation of uninspired pedants. Yet, basic science depends on measurement. First, it confirms hypotheses that cover a limited range to an adequate approximation. Thus a theory becomes established. Outside its range of applicability, however, or for measurements with previously unachieved uncertainties, significant deviations from relationships predicted by the theory are often uncovered. Measurements thus lead to deeper understanding and crucial refinements of theories.

Peiser describes the exhilaration of such measurements first in crystallography, then in low-temperature free-radical reactions. He illustrates the thrilling chase of error sources with the building of a new type of kilogram balance that was later donated to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris. Applications follow to crystal growth, atomic weights, and the current best direct determination of the Avogadro constant. Currently Peiser contributes to applications of metrology to openly revealed, credible chemical measurement methods and to persuade those responsible for the tabulation of high-accuracy physical-property data sets to accept retroactive assessments of reliability.

About the Author:

Steffen Peiser was educated in England at St. Paul's, London, and Cambridge University (honors BA and MA in chemistry, physics, mathematics, and mineralogy), where he held a Hutchinson Research Studentship. He immigrated to the United States in 1957. From then to now he has been associated with the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology), since retirement as a consultant. He has led a number of missions on technology development to rapidly industrializing nations. For this work, which is not the subject of his presentation to the Society, he received a number of distinctions, including an honorary D.Sc. and a National Medal of Honor of the Republic of Korea.

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