What are reference materials used for


Reference materials are used for a range of functions within measurement processes, including:

  • Calibration, i.e. the establishment of a relation between a 'signal' and the quantity intended to be measured. In the simple case, a calibration factor and its uncertainty are calculated from the ratio of the observed and certified values.


  • Method development and validation, i.e. to check if the observed value measured on the reference material and the certified value match within the uncertainty (trueness control).

  • Establishment of metrological traceability, i.e. to ensure that results are traceable to stated references and are comparable to other results.

  • Quality control purposes, for example:
    -- to control the accuracy of a single measurement within the stated uncertainty,
    -- to check for long-term stability of an analytical procedure and laboratory performance (establishment of control charts),
    -- proficiency testing, either with non-certified RMs or when the certified reference value of the material is used as the assigned value for the PT round.


  • Estimation of measurement uncertainty.


It has to be considered that a single reference material cannot be used for both calibration and validation of results in the same measurement procedure.


For additional information see:


[1] ISO-Guide 32 (1997) Calibration of chemical analysis and use of certified reference materials


[2] ISO-Guide 33 (2000) Uses of certified reference materials


[3] EURACHEM-Guide (2002) The selection and use of reference materials - a basic guide for laboratories and accreditation bodies (identical to ILAC G9 (2005))




[4] ERM application note 3 Using reference materials to establish traceability




[5] ISO 16042:2007 Iron ores – Guidelines for the use of certified reference materials


[6] M. Thompson, S.L.R. Ellison, A. Fajgelj, P. Willetts, R. Wood; Harmonised guidelines for the use of recovery information in analytical measurement. Pure & Appl. Chem. (1999) 71: 337–348


[7] V. Barwick, S. Burke, R. Lawn, P. Roper and R. Walker; Applications of Reference Materials in Analytical Chemistry. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2001, ISBN 0-85404-448-5


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