National Physical Laboratory (United Kingdom)
Painting of the laboratory by Lee Campbell, resident artist there in 2009
|Research type||Applied Physics|
Field of research
|Address||Hampton Road, Teddington, TW11 0LW, England|
|Department for Business, Innovation and Skills - National Measurement Office|
The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is the national measurement standards laboratory for the United Kingdom, based at Bushy Park in Teddington, London, England. It is the largest applied physics organisation in the UK.
NPL is an internationally respected centre of excellence in measurement and materials science. Since 1900, when Bushy House was selected as the site of NPL, it has developed and maintained the primary national measurement standards. Today it provides the scientific resources for the National Measurement System financed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
NPL also offers a range of commercial services, applying scientific skills to industrial measurement problems, and manages the MSF time signal. The NPL cooperates with professional networks such as those of the IET to support scientists and engineers concerned with areas of work in which it has expertise.
Teddington was also home to the UK National Chemical Laboratory but this was closed in 1965 and some of its work was transferred to NPL.
The laboratory was initially run by the UK government, with members of staff being part of the civil service. Administration of the NPL was contracted out in 1995 under a GOCO model, with Serco winning the bid and all staff transferred to their employ. Under this regime, overhead costs halved, third party revenues grew by 16% per annum, and the number of peer-reviewed research papers published doubled. It was decided in 2012 to change the operating model for NPL from 2014 onward to include academic partners and to establish a postgraduate teaching institute on site. The date of the changeover was later postponed for up to a year. The candidates for lead academic partner were the Universities of Edinburgh, Southampton, Strathclyde and Surrey with an alliance of the Universities of Strathclyde and Surrey chosen as preferred partners. The laboratory transferred back to Department for Business, Innovation and Skills ownership on 1 January 2015.
NPL was initially sited entirely within Bushy House but grew to fill a large selection of buildings on the Teddington site. Many of these buildings were demolished and the work moved to a large state-of-the-art laboratory for NPL that was built between 1998 and 2007. The construction and operation of this new building were initially being run under a PFI scheme, before transferring back to the DTI in 2004 after the private sector companies involved made losses of over £100m.
Louis Essen (right)
Researchers who have worked at NPL include Donald Davies, who was one of two independent inventors of packet switching in the early 1960s; D. W. Dye who did important work in developing the technology of quartz clocks; Louis Essen, who invented a more accurate atomic clock than those first built in America. Others who have spent time at NPL include Harry Huskey, a computer pioneer; Alan Turing, one of the fathers of modern digital computing who was largely responsible for the early ACE computer design; Robert Watson-Watt, generally considered the inventor of radar, Oswald Kubaschewski, the father of computational materials thermodynamics and the numerical analyst James Wilkinson.
H.J. Gough one of the pioneers of research into metal fatigue worked at NPL for 19 years from 1914-38. The inventor Sir Barnes Wallis did early development work there on the "Bouncing Bomb" used in the "Dam Busters" wartime raids. Sydney Goldstein and Sir James Lighthill worked in NPL's aerodynamics division during World War II researching boundary layer theory and supersonic aerodynamics respectively. Dr Clifford Hodge also worked there and was engaged in research on semiconductors.
Directors of NPL
- Sir Richard Tetley Glazebrook, 1900–1919
- Sir Joseph Ernest Petavel, 1919–1936
- Sir Frank Edward Smith, 1936-1937 (acting)
- Sir William Lawrence Bragg, 1937–1938
- Sir Charles Galton Darwin, 1938–1949
- Sir Edward Victor Appleton, 1941 (acting)
- Sir Edward Crisp Bullard, 1948–1955
- Dr Reginald Leslie Smith-Rose, 1955-1956 (acting)
- Sir Gordon Brims Black McIvor Sutherland, 1956–1964
- Dr John Vernon Dunworth, 1964–1977
- Dr Paul Dean, 1977–1990
- Dr Peter Clapham, 1990–1995
- Dr John Rae, 1995–2000
- Dr Bob McGuiness, 2000–2005
- Steve McQuillan, 2005–2008
- Dr Martyn Sené, 2008-2009, 2015 (acting)
- Dr Brian Bowsher, 2009–2015
Chief Executive Officers
- Dr Peter Thompson, 2015–present
- Annual Review 2013
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- Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society
- "New CEO for National Physical Laboratory : News : News + Events : National Physical Laboratory". npl.co.uk. 2015. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
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