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Wellington scientist tops off remarkable career with award


On Thursday Wellington metrologist, Dr Chris Sutton, added to his remarkable career winning the Science and Technology award for the 2018 Wellingtonian of the Year awards.

Chris is retiring from New Zealand’s Measurement Standards Laboratory (MSL) after a long and incredibly instrumental career shaping New Zealand and international metrology as we know it today. However, one of his biggest achievements will be fully realised next year in May.

Director of Measurement Standards Laboratory, Dr Fleur Francois, says over his 43-year career Dr Sutton has become one of the most influential international metrology experts, most recently designing an innovative Kibble Balance that will transform the way weight is measured from May next year.

“Chris has dedicated his entire career to ensuring New Zealanders and the global community have access to accurate measurements, be it for use in trade, or for safety or environmental monitoring,” says Dr Francois.

“He played a leading role in developing New Zealand’s measurement legislation and establishing the Measurement Standards Laboratory, which enabled mutual recognition of New Zealand’s measurements for trade.”

The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Juliet Gerrard, congratulated Chris on his achievements saying, “Chris’ recent award is a richly deserved and fitting accolade at the end of a long and distinguished career.”

“His dedication to his work has been largely behind the scenes, but this meticulous and detailed effort at MSL has made a huge contribution to the scientific community, who will rely on his tireless dedication for years to come.”

MSL is a business of Callaghan Innovation, New Zealand’s Innovation Agency, based at its Gracefield innovation hub in Lower Hutt.

“What Chris has achieved over his career is nothing short of remarkable and everyone here is extremely proud and privileged to have worked alongside him,” says Paul Linton, Callaghan Innovation’s General Manager, Commercial.

Although ‘officially’ retired, Chris will be regularly popping back to MSL’s Kibble Balance Laboratory to continue its development.

Chris’ innovation will measure the new international kilo

Right up until 20 May next year, when the new international measurement standards kick in based on quantum physics, the kilogram will continue to revolve around a 129-year-old little cylinder of metal kept in a vault in Paris. Currently scientists from key agencies around the world fly their primary reference kilograms to Paris to calibrate against ‘the big K’ or ‘le grand K’. But over the years its mass has shifted, and the world scientific community has decided that quantum physics must come to the rescue.

The Kibble balance is an instrument designed to provide the new kilogram. It allows us to plug in a fundamental constant of nature along with other variables to calculate a kilogram with a high enough accuracy to meet our needs.

Dr Chris Sutton and his MSL colleagues have created a desktop version of a super-precise Kibble balance. It will produce New Zealand’s primary kilogram, and is also likely to be used by other countries to meet their measurement needs in mass.

“Chris’ Kibble Balance will be extremely important for measuring a kilogram when the new international measurement standards kick in next year in May,” Fleur says.

“The highly accurate Kibble balances that have been developed in the northern hemisphere to provide this new method of defining a kilogram have cost millions to build and are literally the size of a two-storey building.

“Dr Chris Sutton has developed a desktop sized version of a Kibble balance that is unique and more simple in design. This invention is a stroke of kiwi ingenuity that will do everything we need and more.”

The Kiwi Kibble Balance will be the only one in this part of the world. The invention contributed to Chris Sutton winning one of metrology’s top international awards last year.

Dr Chris Sutton’s outstanding career:

• started as a scientist at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in 1975, where he developed pressure measurement standards within the Physics and Engineering Laboratory (PEL)
• has been involved in regional and global metrology since the Commonwealth Science Council Project Group meeting in New Delhi 1977
• played a crucial part in the formation and implementation of New Zealand’s measurement legislation
• was the first chair of the Asia-Pacific Metrology Programme and chaired the working group that determined the terms of reference for APMP technical committees.
• was involved in the establishment of New Zealand’s Measurement Standards Laboratory (MSL) in 1992, and was appointed the Director and Chief Metrologist in 1997
• as Director of MSL was involved in negotiating and signing one of the world’s key metrology frameworks, the International Committee for Weights and Measures’ Mutual Recognition Arrangement (CIPM MRA)
• has presented at the APEC/APMP workshop on evaluation of measurement uncertainty in 2001 and was a reviewer in the APEC/APMP peer reviews of the National Institute of Metrology, China, and the National Institute of Metrology, Thailand, in 2002
• was recognised as Distinguished Scientist at Industrial Research Limited in 2008
• was awarded one of the world’s top honours in the field of metrology, the Asia Pacific Metrology Programme (APMP) Award in 2017
• won the Science and Technology award at the Wellingtonian of the Year awards this year.

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