ResearchUNC Charlotte

Charlotte Leads The Field Of Metrology


You might not think a micron, or about 1/100th the width of a human hair, matters, but your cell phone manufacturer certainly does. From the optical chips in your phone to the wings on the cargo plane that delivered it, every product in your life relies on metrology, or the science of measurement. And those manufacturers rely on metrologists, like those at the Center for Precision Metrology (CPM) at UNC Charlotte.

The only academic research center of its kind in the western hemisphere, CPM encompasses state of the art instruments, world-class research talent, and industry partnerships to work on the scale of microns. Differences in measurement of only nanometers–about the size of 10 atoms–can impact manufacturing of huge components such as wind turbines and spacecraft.

“Metrology is important because you need to measure accurately to be sure what you are doing,” said graduate student Rehab Khattab. “If you connect two parts in an airplane or a car or a truck and misalign these parts, over time this can create stress and lead to mechanical failure, like cracks in the components or a crash.“

Failure in operation isn’t the only risk of poor measurement. Aesthetics matter–imagine if your car doors and hood all had slightly different colors. Metrologists make sure that scenario doesn’t happen.

“If you bought parts from different suppliers, who all had different thinking processes, and then put them all together, you might have surfaces that look different,” said graduate student Jesse Redford, who has a job lined up at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

While metrology is often mentioned in engineering schools, UNC Charlotte’s CPM offers the sole Ph.D. program in metrology—creating scientists and engineers to ensure the safety and viability of future manufacturing. 

Just last year, the Digital Metrology Standards Consortium established the new Bailey H. Squier DMSC Metrology Memorial Scholarship for undergraduates at UNC Charlotte, though Squier was neither alumnus nor faculty.

They created a scholarship in his name at UNC Charlotte because we are the place that does metrology,” said Ed Morse, director of CPM. “When I joined the faculty in 1999, and it’s still true, Charlotte was really the only university in the US that had a program dedicated to research and graduate education in metrology.”

The robust research program at UNC Charlotte draws faculty from the top of the field. Morse chairs a national standards committee at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and many other CPM faculty serve on similar committees, which develop performance tests for manufacturing and develop standards that give people in the manufacturing world ways to communicate their needs.

As Redford puts it, “the people who have done the fundamental research congregate here or pass through at one point in time or have a really intimate connection to UNC Charlotte. That’s why I figured this would be the best place for me to study.”

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