ARCHIVED - Metrology Key to Advancing Emerging Technologies

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April 04, 2004— Ottawa, Ontario

In recent years, research and development in sectors such as natural health, biotechnology, energy, and nanotechnology has gained momentum, resulting in a diversity of innovative technologies and products. However, progress in these areas requires further development of measurement standards, traceable to the International System of Units through Canada's National Measurement Institute, to ensure product and service quality, and to facilitate international trade.

The need for a metrology component in these emerging fields is expected to grow rapidly in importance in line with the acceleration of economic activity in these areas. As the centre for Canada's metrology expertise, the NRC Institute for National Measurement Standards (NRC-INMS) is in a privileged position to help Canadian industry – particularly small and medium sized enterprises – enhance their capacity to respond to these measurement challenges.

As we witness the emergence of revolutionary technological advances that promise to improve the world, measurement standards are often overlooked. However, metrology lies at the heart of every industrialized process – from research and development to introducing a product on the global market.

Metrology for Biotechnology

Canada is  a major producer of GMO crops including genetically modified canola.
Canada is a major producer of GMO crops including genetically modified canola.

Progress in biotechnology depends upon reliable measurement of physical, chemical and biochemical parameters in biological and biomolecular systems. Biometrology encompasses the array of measurement science particular to biotechnology. The need for international standards of biomolecular measurements is being felt in areas as diverse as trade, regulation and health.

Rapid progress in this domain is particularly critical in light of the growing international concern surrounding genetically modified organisms and demands for mandatory labelling of transgenic seeds and foods. Possible restrictions on the importation of certain cereal grains and oil seeds represent a major threat to Canadian exports of canola, wheat and potatoes. Since any such technical barrier to trade will be based on the measurement of genetically modified organism (GMO) content in commodity foods or food products, accurate and equitable internationally-accepted measurement standards for such determinations will be of great importance to the Canadian agricultural industry.

Playing a leading role in the development of Canada's biometrology efforts to support international trade and commerce in products of biotechnology is a priority for NRC-INMS. In March 2002, the institute received funding from the Canadian Biotechnology Strategy to define the needs and methodology for the quantitative measurement of GMOs.

In addition, NRC-INMS signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) establishing a formal collaboration regarding development of measurement standards for GMO testing.

These activities are precursors to Canadian-produced certified reference materials for GMO quantification.

More recently, Monsanto Canada signed a Letter of Intent with NRC-INMS, announced in October 2003, to develop a Global Centre for GM Crop Certified Reference Materials (CRM's) – a multi-agency project aimed at developing and distributing CRMs intended to validate methods and provide consistency of measurement for the quantitative determination of genetically modified crops.

Metrology for Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods

Unique NRC-INMS measurement capabilities accelerated production of the world's first suite of herbal products.
Unique NRC-INMS measurement capabilities accelerated production of the world's first suite of herbal products.

Canadians are taking greater control over their health, utilizing alternative or traditional medicines, complementary therapies and natural health products. Preventive medicine and self-medication are particularly popular with the aging population that tends to have a greater knowledge and education of health issues. However, due to the rapid expansion of this market and the lack of regulated standards in the natural health product industry, consumers are becoming increasingly wary of the quality, safety and efficacy of these products.

The NRC-INMS Natural Health Products Initiative aims to support development of Canadian regulatory standards, provide the Natural Health Products (nutraceutical) industry with the analytical tools it requires, and enhance consumer confidence.

Collaborations with NRC-INMS accelerated NIST production of the world's first suite of herbal product CRMs for the ephedra alkaloids, amphetamine-like compounds that potentially have powerful stimulant effects on the nervous system and heart, which in the herbal form is often used for weight loss, increased energy and enhanced athletic performance. These new CRMs will be released in 2004.

Energy

Electrical power lines
Electrical power lines

The deregulation of electrical power industry divided what was previously a single utility into three (suppliers, transmitters, distributors). This resulted in the need to measure quantity and quality of energy products at every point of financial transaction with a meter of known accuracy. With the rise in value of transactions from approximately $40 billion per year to $120 billion, a measurement error of 0.5 per cent translates into $600 million in transactions that hydro customers would have to pay.

The NRC-INMS Electrical Power Measurements Group is committed to preparing NRC's calibration capabilities for more stringent measurement requirements brought on by the deregulated electricity industry. The Group has developed calibration techniques for a new type of instrument transformers equipped with optical sensors that are just entering the market. The Group is participating in the development of a new IEEE standard that will set the accuracy requirements for a new generation of instrument transformers and power and energy meters. In addition, NRC-INMS has been giving talks around the world about anticipated metrology needs for the electrical power industry to people from utilities, government agencies and manufacturers of measurement equipment.

Conclusion

Metrology and measurement standards lie at the heart of every industrialized process – from research and product development to international trade. As we continue to push the boundaries of science, NRC-INMS will continue developing standards to meet Canada's metrology needs and ensure our place in the global marketplace.


Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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