The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is involved in numerous outreach activities NPL actively promotes awareness of science and technology, particularly measurement NPL is operated on behalf of the National Measurement Office and is run by Serco
NPL's motivation leads to an incredible involvement in science from a great number of people in the community.
At the National Physical Laboratory collaborating with the immediate and the global community takes many forms. Projects range from running the schools' Water Rocket Challenge and science courses for adults, to charitable donations and local support - including providing safe parking for local St John Ambulance vehicles that were previously targeted by vandals.
A number of members of staff received contracted time off to volunteer during 2011. John Nunn, a senior research scientist at the laboratory, is one such. He was part of a small team that visited Ethiopia in late 2011 to help train physics teachers. The five days of training included introducing the teachers to the Virtual Physical Laboratory (VPLab), an interactive physics simulation computer package that John has developed in his own time and which is sponsored by NPL and the Institute of Physics. On the final day, each teacher was presented with a certificate and a CD of the Virtual Physical Laboratory for them to install in their schools. One of the teachers said, "I have been teaching for 23 years, and this week has been the best training I have had in all that time". Another said, "I am a teacher trainer myself, and the training I have received this week is going to make a big difference to the way I teach physics".
VPLab is ideal for use in developing countries as it does not require internet access or modern computers. It is used by thousands of teachers worldwide, including more than 3,000 teachers within the UK.
John also took decommissioned NPL laptops, which are now installed at the physics resource centre of the Ethiopian Ministry of Education in Addis Ababa. "For us at the NPL the laptops are too old and slow to run our calculations but in Ethiopia they are very valuable," says John.
John was given seven days' paid time-off to make the trip and says he feels "very supported" by NPL in this work, which also took him to Ghana (with ex-NPL laptops) in 2010, and will take him to Uganda in April 2012.
Water rocket challenge
About 45 primary and secondary levels took part in the annual Water Rocket Challenge, an event held by NPL. Those taking part learn about the science of water rockets and laws of physics by building and launching their own, with prizes for the best performers.