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Master of measurement receives top international award

open this image in new window: Chris Sutton

This article was published on 30 November 2017

New Zealand scientist Dr Chris Sutton has been awarded one of the world’s top honours in the field of metrology, the science of measurement.

Yesterday evening Chris Sutton received this year’s Asia Pacific Metrology Programme (APMP) Award at the APMP’s General Assembly in India for his "significant contribution to the development of metrology in the Asia Pacific region."  

Among Chris’s achievements is making the trusty kilogram trustier, by creating a new version of a super-precise weight-measuring instrument, the Kibble balance. 

In 1999 Chris was also involved in negotiating and signing one of the world’s key metrology agreements, the International Committee for Weights and Measures’ Mutual Recognition Agreement. 

Metrology is critical to New Zealand’s economy and society, as it supports the measurements that are vital to our exports being accepted internationally, among many other things. New Zealand’s national metrology institute is the Measurement Standards Laboratory (MSL), part of Callaghan Innovation. This is where Dr Sutton is developing the new Kibble balance, which is much simpler than current versions of the instrument. The balance will be used to calculate the kilogram when that stops being based on the weight of a piece of metal in Paris and is defined by a fundamental constant of nature. This is expected to happen in 2019. 

Dr Sutton says other Kibble balances have problems with magnetic fields, which can create tiny biases. 

“A key feature of the MSL Kibble balance design is that there are no interfering magnetic fields. This will help metrologists around the world weigh more accurately. 

“Ultimately, that’ll mean you can be more confident that the kilo of cheese you’re buying at the supermarket really does weigh that.” 

Dr Sutton’s other scientific achievements include correcting errors in measuring distances with lasers, improving pressure measurements using pressure balances and finding a better way of comparing measurements internationally. He has published about 100 scientific papers. 

Dr Fleur Francois, MSL’s director, says the APMP Award is one of the highest honours a metrologist can get. 

“It’s a tribute to his work not just as a scientist, in a 45-year career, but also for his contribution to setting up international agreements on metrology. These allow countries to recognise each other’s measurements, which is very important for trade, for example.” 

Chris completed his PhD in solid state physics at Victoria University, then looked for a job. 

“I wanted to work in the real world. It’s a bit of a cliché, but I wanted to make a difference." 

Chris was formerly New Zealand’s Chief Metrologist and Director of MSL. He is currently chair of the international technical group that oversees the mutual recognition of each country’s ability to measure mass. 

About the APMP 
The Asia Pacific Metrology Programme (APMP) is a grouping of national metrology institutes from the Asia-Pacific region, including MSL. The institutes are responsible for maintaining each country’s measurement standards.