Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/132

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124
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
THE AIMS OF THE NATIONAL PHYSICAL LABORATORY OF GREAT BRITAIN.[1]
By R. T. GLAZEBROOK, F.R.S.,
DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL PHYSICAL LABORATORY.

A SPEAKER who is privileged to deliver an experimental lecture from this place is usually able to announce some brilliant discovery of his own, or at least to illustrate his words by some striking experiment. To-night it is not in my power to do this, and I am thereby at a disadvantage. Still I value highly this opportunity which has been given me of making known to this audience the aims and purpose of the National Laboratory.

The idea of a physical laboratory in which problems bearing at once on science and industry might be solved is comparatively new. The Physikalisch-technische Reichsanstalt, founded in Berlin by the joint labors of Werner von Siemens and von Helmholtz during the years 1883-87, was perhaps the first. It is less than ten years since Dr. Lodge, in his address to Section A of the British Association, outlined the scheme of work for such an institution here in England.

Nothing came of this; a committee met and discussed plans, but it was felt to be hopeless to approach the government, and without government aid there were no funds. Four years later, however, the late Sir Douglas Galton took the matter up. In his address to the British Association in 1895 and again in a paper read before Section A, he called attention to the work done for Germany by the Reichsanstalt, and to the crying need for a similar institution in England. The result of this presidential pronouncement was the formation of a committee which reported at Liverpool, giving a rough outline of a possible scheme of organization.

A petition to Lord Salisbury followed, and as a consequence a Treasury committee, with Lord Rayleigh in the chair, was appointed to consider the desirability of establishing a National Physical Laboratory. The committee examined over thirty witnesses and then reported unanimously, "That a public institution should be founded for standardizing and verifying instruments, for testing materials, and for the determination of physical constants." It is natural to turn to the words of those who were instrumental in securing the appointment of this committee and to the evidence it received in any endeavor to dis-

  1. A discourse delivered at the Royal Institution.