Looking behind the standards

Accelerating the pace of standards development through pre-normative research

By Antoinette Price

As the pace of technological development accelerates, there is increasing pressure to reduce the time required to produce international standards, as well as to start the standardization process at the earliest possible opportunity.

LTQ-Orbitrap hybrid mass spectrometer (Photo: University of Otago, New Zealand)
LTQ-Orbitrap hybrid mass spectrometer (Photo: University of Otago, New Zealand)

Optimizing innovation

For the most advanced materials, or those whose advanced nature lies in their electrical, electronic or electricaI insulation properties, pre-normative work helps to reduce the time taken to craft documentary standards, by creating consensus at an early stage of the international standards development process.

The chemistry of surfaces and interfaces is critical in many innovative industry sectors, such as fuel-efficient engines, photovoltaics, nanoparticle catalysts, advanced drug delivery systems, clinical imaging of tissue and security applications.

Powerful analytical techniques are used in this development work and analysts rely on international standards for providing repeatable, reliable, and defensible results. At VAMAS (The Versailles Project on Advanced Materials and Standards) the technical committee (TC) or technical working area (TWA) on Surface Chemical Analysis conducts pre-normative studies. These help to ensure that the resultant international standards are robust, have interoperability, and are based on sound methodology.

Saving time at VAMAS

VAMAS was set up in 1982 at the G-7 Economic Summit in Versailles, France, to support world trade in products dependent on advanced materials technologies. It achieves this through international collaborative projects carried out by its TCs or TWAs in pre-normative research of these materials. The work establishes the technical basis for performing and producing harmonized measurements, testing, specifications and standards.

The very manner in which they are produced means that VAMAS results are internationally agreed upon before formal presentation to the standards technical committees, thus saving many months of negotiation and investment in expensive meetings.

What does the future hold?

VAMAS is now addressing important and rapidly growing technical issues, for example in nanomaterials. As devices and device features shrink in size and grow in complexity, the measurement of their dimensions, features, geometry, and properties presents major technical challenges. An inability to perform these measurements reliably presents a serious threat to the commercialization of such devices.

Examples of current projects comprise graphene-layer characterization by scanning Kelvin-probe microscopy and the development of methods for 3D molecular imaging of nanostructured organic devices, such as organic electronics. Future directions include improved repeatability of chemical imaging of tissue using mass spectrometry, an area that is well-aligned with increasing interests and initiatives in biotechnology.

Other TWAs formed to address critical measurement needs include ones on nanomaterials, thin films and coatings, electroceramics, and thermoelectrics. New topics being considered as potential TWAs are biomaterials and adsorbent materials.

How does VAMAS work?

Thirty-eight TWAs cover everything from surface chemical analysis, superconducting materials, performance related properties of electroceramics and creep, crack and fatigue growth in weldments to quantitative microstructural analysis, nanoparticle populations and spectrometry of synthetic polymers, to name a few.

Around 500 scientists and engineers from VAMAS member and non-member countries in Asia, Europe and North America have participated in over 80 projects to agree the technical basis for test method development. Using different laboratories, these methods are checked to ensure consistent results and provide precision data. It is worth noting that individuals participating in VAMAS often do so within their national standards bodies and in international standards development.

VAMAS and the IEC

VAMAS and the IEC have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), agreeing to publish Technology Trends Assessments (TTAs), based on the work of VAMAS, with a view to accelerating standards development in advanced materials.

VAMAS has similar MoUs with other organizations, including the World Materials Research Institute Forum (WMRIF) and the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM). These agreements foster information exchange and communication between standards developers worldwide, as well as more specifically, the potential for working together on different issues pertaining to advanced materials.

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LTQ-Orbitrap hybrid mass spectrometer (Photo: University of Otago, New Zealand) LTQ-Orbitrap hybrid mass spectrometer (Photo: University of Otago, New Zealand)
Single-walled carbon nanotube Single-walled carbon nanotube