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Researchers gather in the UK to 'measure the impossible'

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is hosting a conference bringing together researchers from across Europe looking into 'Measuring the Impossible'. The conference runs until 12 November in Teddington , South London.

The Measuring the Impossible' Network (MINET) shares research in areas of interdisciplinary science to develop new ways to measure complex phenomena that are dependent on human perception and/or interpretation. This includes measurements relating to products and services, such as quality or desirability, or societal parameters such as security and well-being. The aim is to be able to advance the frontiers of the science of measurement and to respond to future requirements for measuring properties such as comfort, naturalness, perceived quality, feelings, body language and consciousness.

The three day conference at NPL focuses on the subject areas:

  • Perception (e.g. visual, tactile, multisensory)
  • Cognition (individual and social behaviours)
  • Emotion
  • Data interpretation and analysis
  • Instrumentation
  • Measurement techniques and protocols
  • Measurement uncertainty
  • Measurement theory
  • Standardisation

Researchers involved in the 'Measuring the Impossible' project come from a range of scientific disciplines such as science, engineering, psychology, neuroscience and the creative arts, and from backgrounds such as the manufacturing and design industries, universities and National Measurement Institutes. It has been supported by the EU since February 2007 and is due to report its results and conclusions in Brussels in January 2010.

"The project aims to establish a community of researchers with an interest in understanding, quantifying and modelling human perception and/or interpretation. Such research provides exciting opportunities for enhanced scientific understanding of brain processes, improved product design and manufacturing, development of new measurement instrumentation and better approaches for clinical applications such as management of chronic pain. Topics being investigated by project partners include such diverse areas as measurement of perceived naturalness, understanding emotional responses to music, improving air quality and evaluating the reliability of eyewitness testimony" Teresa Goodman, Principal Research Scientist at NPL.

One of the objectives for the conference is to provide feedback on the future direction, priorities and potential impacts of research in this emerging area of 'Measuring the Impossible' (MtI). A discussion session during the second day of the conference highlighted the need to continue with this multidisciplinary approach to meet challenges such as: improved quality for goods and services, and understanding what influences human behaviour in important areas such as energy usage. The MINET project consortium would like to hear from all those with an interest in this area and posed the following questions for consideration:

a. What are the potential benefits of research in MtI for society, business, industry, the scientific community etc.?
b. What are the barriers to achievement of these benefits?
c. What should MtI research be aiming to achieve within the next 10 years and what are the associated key research priorities?
d. What specific developments in measurement instrumentation, techniques, protocols etc. are required in order to achieve these research objectives?

Responses can be sent to Teresa Goodman ( and will be used to inform a report on future research priorities that is being prepared for the EU.


Contact: Joe Meaney
National Physical Laboratory

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