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Chair’s Welcome

I am delighted as Chair of the Friends to welcome you to our website. Bushy Park and Home Park are two wonderful large green oases in the south west corner of London. Feeling wild, they are natural places with ancient histories, fascinating heritage and superb wildlife. Both are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) containing rare species. These are places to be enjoyed and conserved. Which is why the Friends exist, campaigning, supporting and protecting the parks, and enhancing visitors’ enjoyment with information, advice and guidance.

We are always pleased to receive feedback. You can contact us by clicking here.

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Report on: NPL Past and Present

On November 24th 2011 we were treated to a talk by Fiona Auty on NPL Past and Present. Fiona is the NPL’s Head of Communications and so is extremely well qualified to speak on the subject.

Many of us pass the National Physical Laboratory frequently and may wonder what actually happens in the complex of buildings.

NPL’s mission is to provide measurement which is the capability that underpins the UK’s prosperity and quality of life. This National Measurement Institute is one of the top 3 in the world with the US and Germany.

NPL is now a commercial organisation with companies such as BP, Shell and Rolls Royce occupying the 388 purpose-built labs which opened in 2008. Research expertise is shared with government, business and society.

NPL was founded in Bushy House in 1900 and opened by the Price of Wales in 1902. The NPL Ship Tank was built in 1910, now computer modelling has taken over.

In 1920 lady technicians were employed for the first time and involved in thermometer testing and calibration.

Through the 20’s and 30’s a model of the Bristol Aircraft was tested in a wind tunnel, motor horns were tested and Radar was invented.

Post WW2, one of the first Automatic Computing Engines was developed followed by testing of Taximeters, the World’s first caesium Atomic clock and ‘packet-switching’ which underpins how the internet works today.

Some of the more glamorous projects included the filming of the Dambusters movie, fixing Big Ben and weighing Concorde.

Fiona gave us an interesting history lesson relating to the importance of measurement. One of the first measures was the cubit which enabled the pyramids to be built. Maybe the first ‘proper’ measure was the Yard which is mentioned as far back as King Edgar and used in the Magna Carta as a measure for food, drink and cloth. In 1742 the Royal Society commissioned a standard yard. The measure was burned in the 1834 Houses of Parliament fire and a new yard measure was legalised in 1855. (one can still be seen in Trafalgar Square)

In 1791 the French National Assembly defined a metre as one quarter of the circumference of the earth divided by 10 million. Many countries signed the Metre Convention in 1875 but the UK was still happy with the yard and only signed in 1884. Sixteen metre bars were made and no.16 is still kept at the NPL. The UK has not totally embraced the metric system with some old imperial measurements still lawful e.g. for beer. In the 20th. Century 1 metre is now measured with light and time in a vacuum.

Fiona gave reasons as to why we need more accurate measurement using time to illustrate this. Early sundials’ accuracy could be 60 seconds per day, quartz crystal watches 1 second in 30 years, the 1955 Caesium clock is 1 second in 300 years with the current most accurate time-keeper, the NPL atomic clock, having an accuracy of 1 second in 60 million years! This degree of accuracy is essential as all modern technology, mobile phones, sat. navs etc. relies on accurate time.
NPL’s time team are using optical frequency which would give an accuracy of 1 second in the lifetime of the universe.

The following are examples of the diverse nature of research carried out at NPL:

  • A device to measure the ripeness of cauliflowers which attaches to the front of the mechanical picker
  • How to overcome the problem of smelly socks using nanoparticles
  • Measurement of the temperature of the middle of an explosion
  • Ultrasound scans relating to measurements
  • Ensuring that all lottery balls have exactly the same weight and measurement
  • Twelve people at NPL have worked on colour standards for computers since the 1950s
  • Safety of mobile phones
  • Standard and specification of materials used in Formula One racing
  • Early work on chip and pin technology
  • How to make the head on a pint of Guinness settle more quickly by placing a pad under the glass
  • Standardising the colour in ketchup
  • Accurate measurement of the damage to some of the tapestries at Hampton Court
  • Coating on military uniforms to make them less visible by night vision goggles – this must include underpants!*
  • Measuring the amount of methane given off by landfill sites
  • The crunchiness of biscuits using sound as a measure of freshness.

Fiona mentioned the next NPL Open Day on March 14th 2012 at which all are welcome.

Many thanks to Fiona for a most interesting and stimulating talk.

Report by Jane Cliff

Why we need more Friends

With more members our voice is stronger when we campaign to protect the Parks, and with more subscription income we can do more to provide information and education about the Parks, their wildlife and their history.

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Walks & Talks

Forthcoming event

Latest report

A perimeter walk of Home Park led by Nicholas Garbutt was enjoyed by over 45 people on 2nd September.Walk in Home Park- 2nd September

Full report...

Information Point

The Information Point next to the Pheasantry Welcome Centre café is where our volunteers help visitors to find out more about the parks and where visitors can purchase souvenirs of your visit to support our work.

Click this panel to visit our Information Point section and also to find out how you can get involved as a volunteer.