National Measurement Laboratory

By Colin WardFebruary 21st, 2011

The National Measurement Laboratory was identified as a National Facility within CSIRO in an exchange of letters between the former Minister for Science, The Hon. Peter McGauran, and CSIRO Chief Executive, Dr Malcolm McIntosh in December 1996. This followed the recommendation to this effect made by the Committee of Inquiry into Standards and Conformance in Australia (the Kean Committee). As a National Facility, the National Measurement Laboratory had a much greater visibility and a clearer identity both within the national measurement system and internationally. The National Measurement Laboratory maintained and disseminated national standards of measurement to Australian industry and the community, and was responsible for maintaining the international credibility for Australia’s measurement standards.

The NML had its origins in CSIR which, when established in 1926, had among its powers and functions: the ‘testing and standardisation of scientific apparatus and instruments’ and other activities related to standards and measurement. In 1938, Cabinet approved the establishment of the National Standards Laboratory (NSL), to be built on a site in the grounds of the University of Sydney and in 1940 NSL staff began work in the partially completed building in the university grounds. NSL was part of CSIR/CSIRO. In 1974, NSL was renamed the National Measurement Laboratory (NML) following a reorganisation within CSIRO, and moved to moved to a new site at Lindfield in 1978.

Leitz Numerical Measurement device

Researcher using Leitz Numerical Measurement device, National Measurement Laboratory, Lindfield NSW (1/2/89). [Photo credit: Robert Kerton]

In 2000, the then Chief Scientist of Australia, Dr Robin Batterham, recommended in his report ‘The Chance to Change’ that a National Measurement Institute be established comprising Australian Government Analytical Laboratories (AGAL), NML and the National Standards Commission. This proposal was accepted by the Federal government and in 2003, the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, the Hon. Ian Macfarlane MP, announced that the National Measurement Institute would be established.

The formation of the National Measurement Institute in 2004 brought together the National Measurement Laboratory from CSIRO, the National Standards Commission and the Australian Government Analytical Laboratories.

The National Measurement Institute (NMI) is responsible for establishing and maintaining Australia’s units and standards of measurement and for coordinating Australia’s national measurement system. NMI was formed from the National Measurement Laboratory (CSIRO), the National Standards Commission and the Australian Government Analytical Laboratories and continues their work.

For a summary of the history of measurement in Australia see History of Measurement in Australia.