The Education of a Metrologist

Finding and using measurement science resources

by Philip Stein

Metrology (measurement science) is an interesting and unusual profession. Some practitioners design measurement systems or instruments. Others perform calibrations. Still others do basic research into underlying scientific principles.

Considering the large variety of people in the field, you can imagine how broad the subject matter is. Metrology, after all, borrows concepts from physics, math (mostly statistics), chemistry, all kinds of engineering, and even a little biology and medicine at times.

Measurements are everywhere, but measurement scientists are few. And most curricula in technical fields don't even mention metrology. How, then, do metrologists get an education? This topic is of particular interest at this time because the ASQ Certification Board recently approved the development of a certified calibration technician program and will need to identify education and training concerning the program's body of knowledge.

The well-taught metrologist

Teaching metrology, I frequently meet people with varied technical backgrounds, often in quality, who were thrust into metrology by some twist of fate. The most typical student says, "I'm the quality manager at my company, and I've just been given responsibility for the metrology activity. I'm here to find out what I'm supposed to do." These people come from diverse backgrounds in engineering, math and science and, like other professionals who become metrologists, have had very little exposure to this important technical field.

A metrologist with a broad, well-rounded education should have a strong grounding in physics and applied statistics (very similar to statistics in the quality field). He or she should also have specialized knowledge in several metrology and engineering areas--the most common being mechanical and dimensional measurements, electrical measurements, time, mass, temperature, and physical areas such as flow and pressure.

In many cases, the understanding of more than one field is needed. For example, dimensional measurements are strongly affected by temperature; therefore, it is important to understand how to measure temperature well in order to measure dimensions.

Finally, there are specific international and national standards and practices specific to metrology that must be understood. Comprehend-ing the U.S. Guide for Expression of Uncertainty in Measurement,1 for example, is critical to being a well-rounded professional metrologist.

Finding metrology courses

Several colleges and universities have metrology curricula, and some offer two-year degrees. Metrology concentrations may also be available as part of a four-year program. The best known programs can be found at Butler County Community College in Pennsylvania, California State University at Dominguez Hills and the Community College of Aurora in Colorado.

Many years ago, The George Washington University partnered with the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology or NIST) to offer graduate programs in metrology, but none are available today. For many years the U.S. military trained calibration technicians. There are thousands of graduates of these programs, and many of them are still employed in the calibration field.

Many of these graduates have also furthered their technical education and are contributing to the advancement of the field.

Most metrology education is accomplished through short courses. The premier offerings in this area come from NIST. NIST conducts weeklong courses in several areas, such as its widely known course in gage blocks. As you might expect, these courses are highly technical, fanatically detailed and completely focused on a single topic area.

I tried to find some details on the NIST Web site (www.nist.gov), but it does not offer a central source of information concerning NIST's public courses. I suggest turning to the Internet first to identify someone in the technical area in which you are interested in training, and then use the phone. You can contact NIST about its courses by calling 301-975-6478.

Perhaps the most technical short course that attempts to cover a wide selection of metrology topics is a weeklong one offered twice a year by The George Washington University Center for Professional Development (www.gwu.edu/~ceep/cweg/eg284.html) in Washington, DC. Nine instructors, almost all of them current or past NIST experts in their fields, lecture for three hours each on mass, temperature, dimensional measurements, pressure, flow, electrical measurements and so forth. I have been one of the course's instructors for more than 20 years, and since its founder and organizer, Woody Eicke, passed away recently, I manage the course as well.

Several other colleges, most notably Tustin Technical Institute in Santa Barbara, CA, and Tidewater Community College in South Hampton Roads, VA, have extensive offerings in short courses.

A wide range of metrology training curricula may also be found from some familiar quality training and consulting organizations. Accrediting bodies such as A2LA (www.a2la.org) offer specialized courses in the technical and management aspects of accredited metrology. Similarly, several measurement software and hardware manufacturers also conduct formal training.

Other opportunities from which to learn

The best source of listings for all metrology education and training is provided by the National Conference of Standards Labs, now renamed NCSL International. Its Web site, www.ncslinternational.org, has a very good listing of what is available. There you will find not only courses, but books and CDs as well. The ASQ Measurement Qual-ity Division offers its own resources, including an online bookstore (featuring the division's own metrology bibliography) at www.metrology.org

Education takes many forms. I have always felt that attending conferences contributed greatly to a professional's capabilities, even if all one does is wander through the exhibits, looking at the hardware and software.

There are two major conferences in the United States every year that fit this description. The above mentioned NCSL International has an annual meeting during the summer, and the Measurement Science Conference (MSC) (www.msc-conf.com) meets in Southern California every year in January. The MSC is a great source of metrology tutorials and courses.

ASQ's Annual Quality Congress has a few metrology offerings, mostly in training and consulting, but virtually no hardware. Quality magazine has an annual show that specializes in dimensional metrology, and the ASQ Measurement Quality Division holds an annual conference with technical papers and tutorials, but at this point does not have exhibits.

The National Conference of Weights and Measures holds a big annual meeting, with an orientation toward weighing, and the Instru-ment Society of America show has a heavy emphasis on flow, pressure and other physical measurements.

I'm sure I've left out many other conferences and shows in specific areas, but for metrology in general, NCSL and MSC are the best.

I hope you will take advantage of these books, conferences and links to catch up on what's happening in this exciting field--even if you don't need to practice it every day.


1. The National Conference of Standards Laboratories (NCSL) and the Accredited Standards Committee on General Requirements, U. S. Guide to the Expression of Uncertainty in Measurement: ANSI-NCSL Z540-2-1997, second edition (Boulder, CO: NCSL, 1997).

PHILIP STEIN is a metrology and quality consultant in private practice in Pennington, NJ. He holds a master's degree in measurement science from The George Washington University, in Washington, DC, and is an ASQ Fellow. For more information, see www.measurement.com.

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.

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