50 Years of the ‘Journal of Physical and Chemical Reference Data’: A Q&A With Editors Allan Harvey and Don Burgess

Reference data’s connection to the public is indirect yet often very important. For example, a town’s electricity could come from a steam power plant in which reference data for the properties of steam was used to design the turbines. In this way, reference data provides important foundations to science and technology.

This year marks the 50th volume of the Journal of Physical and Chemical Reference Data (known as JPCRD to its editors and readers). The journal was first published in 1972 to, in the words of inaugural editor David Lide, “present, in a systematic manner, compilations of physical and chemical property data which have been critically evaluated by scientists who are knowledgeable in the pertinent field of research.” With thousands of articles and tens of thousands of citations, the journal is a respected repository for data. We asked present editors Allan Harvey and Don Burgess about the journal, its significance and their plans for the future.

When did you become editors of the Journal of Physical and Chemical Reference Data? How did you get recruited for the job?

Why is NIST the natural home for a “reference data” journal?

How did researchers typically access scientific reference data before the journal was introduced?

We think of ourselves as a source for people who are using these data in their work and need to understand where the data come from and how much confidence to put in them. For example, if you are modeling the climate, you want to know not only the wavelengths and strengths of how carbon dioxide and water absorb energy, but also the uncertainties in those quantities so you can estimate how certain or uncertain your results are.

How did the internet and personal computers change the journal?

What kinds of data are in the journal now that you wouldn’t have imagined when you became editors?

For example, a highly accurate measurement of the heat of combustion of methane is used to calibrate instruments that determine the energy content of natural gas, and that piece of data also feeds into models used by the gas industry to estimate energy content of different natural gases.

If you had a hope or dream for what the journal will be 50 years from now, what would it be?

Read more in Allan and Don’s article, “Fifty Years of Reference Data,” in the Journal of Physical and Chemical Reference Data.

This post originally appeared on Taking Measure, the official blog of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on June 16, 2021.

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