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Certified reference materials

The JRC is one of the major developers and producers of reference materials, which are produced in support of EU policy, for example in the areas of nanotechnology and clinical analysis

Better healthcare, safer food and a cleaner environment are just some of the ways in which accurate and reliable measurement results enhance our quality of life. The competitiveness of the European economy and the smooth functioning of international trade also depend on reliable measurements, which eliminate the need to duplicate or dispute testing data.

At the heart of reliable measurements are reference materials. They provide a benchmark for analytical laboratories around the world to deliver accurate and comparable results. Testing laboratories use certified reference materials to calibrate measuring instruments, evaluate test procedures and for quality control purposes.

The JRC is one of the major developers and producers of reference materials in the world. It currently provides over 760 reference materials, and distributes around 20,000 units per year to testing laboratories worldwide. The JRC's selection of reference materials are tailored to meet the needs of European policy, particularly in emerging areas such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and personalised medicine.

The JRC has laboratories and processing facilities for the development and production of reference materials that are unique in the world. At the JRC in Geel, Belgium, the JRC's reference material production building features a pilot plant for material processing that comprises several unique features, such as the possibility for parallel material handling thanks to movable walls and separate air-handling systems for the main processing hall. The reference materials developed and produced in the facility provide laboratories around the world with benchmarks to deliver accurate, harmonised and traceable result and therefore help implement EU legislation through accurate and reliable testing.

Reference materials for clinical analysis

Millions of blood tests are performed each year around the world, and clinical chemistry is one example where the importance of accurate testing is evident. The next time your blood is analysed, remember that many of the data values are directly traceable to the JRC's reference materials.

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Reference materials for environmental analysis

The JRC provides state-of-the-art certified reference materials as quality assurance and quality control tools for the implementation of EU environmental policies.

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Reference materials for food analysis

The certified reference materials distributed by the JRC give measurement laboratories a means to validate analytical methods, to assess the quality of the measurement results and to demonstrate their traceability to stated references such as the SI units. Over the years, the JRC has developed a broad variety of food related reference materials covering a wide range of analyte/matrix combinations.

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Reference materials for fuel analysis

Fuel quality is an important energy issue for industry as well as for citizens. When using fuels in car engines or domestic heating, systems consumers need to be sure that the fuel does not cause any malfunction or damage to their equipment. Similarly, consumers are increasingly aware also of the environmental impact of their fuel consumption. The JRC provides certified reference materials for fuel analysis for a wide range of parameters relevant for the quality and environmental impact of fuels, be it conventional fossil fuels or biofuels.

Reference materials for GMO analysis

For the implementation of the European legislation that regulates the authorisation and the labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the JRC develops, produces and distributes certified reference materials. These CRMs are used for the calibration or quality control of GMO quantification measurements.

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Reference materials for materials science

Reference materials for materials science underpin many industrial processes and give companies as well as regulators the confidence in these measurements that strengthen assessments of legal as well as company and customer-specific specifications. This work supports the common European market and helps European companies to compete on a global scale.

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Reference materials for nuclear safeguards, safety and security

Verification and detection in safeguarding nuclear material, conformity of information on materials and processes in nuclear forensics, as well as response in nuclear security are based on reliable measurement results with appropriate quality control tools as prerequisite. JRC provides nuclear material measurement standards, nuclear reference measurements and conformity assessment tools to safeguards authorities, industry and the international measurement community. This support includes the development of new reference materials, measurement services as well as development of reference measurement methods and their implementation.

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Reference materials for nanotechnology

The JRC's unique position as a European institution allows it to focus on developing challenging and ground-breaking reference materials. For example, the JRC produced the world's first certified nanoparticle reference material based on industry-sourced nanoparticles.

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Nuclear reference data, materials and measurements

Reliable measurements of α, β and γ radiation are of great importance for environmental monitoring, medical treatment and nuclear safeguards.

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Reference materials development

EU policy needs drive the development of reference materials at the JRC.

Therefore, JRC has to provide certified reference materials which are crucial as anchor points for the calibration of measurements in complex natural and man-made systems and for the benchmarking of and within control and reference laboratories. New reference material developments will be focused on scientifically cutting-edge materials with new measurand/matrix combinations and material properties as close as feasible to the real-world samples to be controlled for EU legislation.

The main areas cover:

  • biotechnologies and molecular biosciences
  • health
  • environment and energy
  • advanced engineered materials including nanotechnology
  • safe and high-quality food
  • nuclear safeguards

The reference function of the JRC implies also the need to ensure the provision of crucial reference materials on a long-term scale.

JRC has established a modern quality management system. Since 2004 the Unit is accredited according to ISO 17034 (which replaced ISO Guide 34 in 2016) and ISO/IEC 17025.

Most of the reference material projects are performed in collaboration with various external institutions and JRC invites competent parties to express their related interests.

Request for the development of a set of GMO CRMs


Reference materials production hall (JRC-IRMM)

Reference materials production hall (JRC, Geel, Belgium)

© EU, 2016

Reference materials 

To find out more about the JRC's work on similar topics, explore the related JRC portfolios:

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