Letter: Laboratory's pioneer work

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The Independent Online
From Dr Peter Clapham

Sir: Tom Wilkie's lament over what he describes as the wasted potential of the National Physical Laboratory is, I think, misplaced ("Technical failure down at the lab", 19 April). True, when NPL was founded, in 1900, its role was wider than that of a standards laboratory with a broad remit: in the words of the then Prince of Wales, to "effect a union between science and commerce".

Over the succeeding decades NPL has done much to effect this union, with pioneering work in aircraft and ship design, computer technology, new materials, radar and, of course, in countless fields of measurement science. But the world has moved on; science is now recognised as underpinning almost every aspect of human endeavour and, as a result, many excellent research and development laboratories are to be found throughout the public and private sectors. It no longer makes sense to expect one national laboratory to do a little bit of everything there is to do in physics.

What NPL does, however, it does very well indeed. The laboratory continues to enjoy an international reputation as a world-class centre of excellence in measurement-related physics.NPL's work continues to spawn innovations in precision engineering, optical communications, aerospace, health care and environmental protection, and our current research will doubtless underpin the technologies of the future.

Yours faithfully,

PETER CLAPHAM

Director & Chief Executive

National Physical

Laboratory

Teddington, Middlesex

19 April

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