Prosciutto pizza for vegans: haute cuisine?

Nothing seems to make sense in the title, does it? Still, the title captures the world of science and infrastructure behind measurements, in particular in Chemistry. Let me explain how by taking you through a brief story.

Brief history of modern metrology

Year 1875 is written in history as the year when an international organisation, the Bureau International des Poids et Measures (BIPM), was established by the Metre Convention. Through BIPM, Member States act together on matters related to measurement science and measurement standards. Its vision is to be universally recognised as the world’s central point for the international system of measurement.

The first time the International System (SI) of Units was introduced dates back to year 1799. In this year two platinum standards, representing the metre and the kilogram, were deposited in the Archives de la République in Paris. Since then, other SI base units were added to the SI system. As the very last one, the seventh, the mole, was adopted for the quantity amount of substance in 1972. This followed a proposal from the International Organisation for Standardisation originating in a proposal from the Commission on Symbols, Units and Nomenclature (SUN Commission) of IUPAP, which was supported by the International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).

Chemistry, when it comes to metrology, science of measurements, is thus the youngest member of the SI family, with the corresponding Committee for amount of Substance (CCQM) being set up in 1993. This has brought in metrology many new aspects in addition to those for physical measurements. It is thus not surprising that many exciting discussions are ongoing, aiming at embracing science of measurements also in other scientific fields, not only Chemistry, in addition to the traditional Physics. Recently, “biology” was added to the CCQM’s name, which reads now “Committee for amount of Substance (CCQM): Metrology in Chemistry and Biology”.

My contribution to science of measurements

Measurements in Chemistry, also known as analytical chemistry, were in the centre of my research interest since my Bachelor’s degree. Soon after completing my PhD, in which I dealt with chemistry, metrology and chemometrics, I moved my professional interest entirely on metrology, mostly chemistry related, but not only. This meant, amongst other, stepping into science-policy world and thus first having to acquire new skills, most of them rather different than the work of a researcher. In 2000, I accepted the invitation of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission to join them as a visiting scientist. The topic to jointly work on was metrology in chemistry, in particular related to, at that time, twelve EU pre-accession countries, including my home country, Slovenia. This topic fit nicely in my job description at the Metrology Institute of the Republic of Slovenia, and for the next ten years I had an opportunity to work on, develop and contribute to some new concepts, as well as to plant seeds for reshaping metrology landscape at a national and at the European level. We were working through brainstorming on extracting from (at that time still rather foggy) metrological terminology, meanings of definitions and terms for measurements in chemistry, trying to build a coherent environment for measurements (in chemistry) which fits into an overall metrology, accreditation and standardisation landscape. Amongst other, two initiatives on education popped up: a pan-European lifelong learning programme for metrology in chemistry, and an initiative for including topics on measurements in chemistry in the academic curricula. Our many brainstorming outcomes throughout these ten years resulted in publishing papers in scientific journals, as well as books, while also organising many events, most important (kick off) ones during the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2008.

Recently, I had the privilege to write a chapter of the book “Metrology for the Sea”. In this chapter, I give an overview of the foundation for measurements in the chemical sciences, in particular of those related to the sea. For those who like reading overviews and digging into details on your own, this book may be of your interest. In my chapter, I explain traceability, validation, measurement uncertainty, sampling and quality aspects on twenty ages. I provide an outline of interconnected worlds of the chemical sciences, metrology, policy, standardisation, accreditation, and science communication at the national, regional, and global levels. I demonstrate how measurements in chemical sciences work on examples that people can relate to, such as quality of bathing waters, classification of olive oils, accumulation of 210Po in coastal waters, and in fish tissue in the Gulf of Trieste. Finally, I look at the difference between a research laboratory and an accredited testing laboratory, and briefly touch on the importance of discourse in a decision-making process. You may also find the answer to the title question there. Hint: #validation.

Landmark decision on SI units

Last but not least, I will add that a landmark decision has been made at the twenty-sixth meeting of the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) concerning SI units. This landmark decision means that from 20 May 2019 all SI units are defined in terms of constants that describe the natural world. This was a somewhat disruptive birth of new scientific models, which are not yet finished. As part of this decision, the mole is redefined in the SI as “the amount of substance of a system that contains 6.02214076×1023 specified elementary entities” (the Avogadro constant NA).

Nineta Hrastelj
EuChemS Secretary General

How can plants become sensors of toxic chemicals?

The OPCW Plant Biomarker Challenge

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) launched a call for proposals for scientists to present innovative ideas on plant-based chemical detection techniques.

As natural vegetation is always present in areas of human and animal habitation, the OPCW plant biomarker challenge aims to enhance scientific research on methods or systems by which a specific type of vegetation could act as an indicator of exposure to toxic chemicals. This crowdsourcing challenge is part of the re-emergence of chemical weapons prevention strategy of the OPCW.

The project is funded by the European Union. Up to five of the submissions will be awarded contract of up to €40,000 to allow the proof-of-concept project to be performed as Phase 2 of the project.

Discover more about this initiative here.

Chemists against chemical weapons

The European Chemical Society (EuChemS) supports the OPCW activities and take action whenever needed.

Find out more about EuChemS’ actions against chemical weapons here.

Laura Jousset
EuChemS Science Communication & Policy Officer

About the OPCW:
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is the implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force on 29 April 1997. The OPCW is an intergovernmental organisation with 193 member states, and has its seat in The Hague, Netherlands. The OPCW oversees the global endeavour for the permanent and verifiable elimination of chemical weapons.

The OPCW website