Tennessee Opens New Lab Dedicated To Measuring Things (Yes, We Mean Scales And Stuff) | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee Opens New Lab Dedicated To Measuring Things (Yes, We Mean Scales And Stuff)

May 21, 2018

To many, a pound is a pound and a gallon is a gallon. But setting those exact standards is one of the basic functions of government.

It's even in Article I of the U.S. Constitution, alongside coining money.

Now, the state of Tennessee has a new lab — entirely dedicated to checking whether things are being weighed and measured correctly. Last week, the Department of Agriculture opened a new metrology laboratory in Nashville, and it replaces a building that was so out-of-date, federal authorities essentially said Tennesseans couldn't use it.

Government inspectors certify all sorts of things, including grocery store scales and gas pumps, and the instruments they use are so precise that something as seemingly insignificant as a drafty air conditioning duct can be enough to throw them off.

So when the National Institute of Standards and Technology told Tennessee its lab wasn't up to snuff, that was a problem, says Governor Bill Haslam.

"That's one of the ways then-Commissioner Johnson convinced me," Haslam told reporters after a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week. "He said, 'You know, we have Tennessee citizens who are having to go elsewhere and pay their money out of state because we can't certify, in the way the federal government requires us to.'"

The new Julius T. Johnson State Metrology Lab is meant to fix that problem. ("Metrology" is the science of measuring things.)

The 11,000-square-foot building on the campus of the Ellington Agricultural Center cost nearly $6.4 million to construct. Work began in the summer of 2016,  and the first calibration tests were conducted in April.

State officials say the lab will have the latest equipment, as well as stringent environmental conditions — so no more drafty air ducts. That'll give experts the ability to test and calibrate machines that can measure objects as small as a milligram, which is less than a grain of salt, to the 7,000 pounds, the size of a pickup truck.

The goal: to reassure consumers that the gallon of gasoline they purchase at their local station is really a gallon. Just as they often assume.