2008 Gabor medal and prize

Doreen Stoneham

Oxford Authentication Ltd

For her successful establishment of a world-leading company that authenticates ceramics for the art world.

The Gabor medal and prize for distinguished work in the application of physics in an industrial, commercial or business context has been awarded to Mrs Doreen Stoneham, Director and Company Secretary of Oxford Authentication Ltd, for her successful establishment of a world-leading company that authenticates ceramics for the art world.

Oxford Authentication Ltd, founded by Mrs Stoneham, leads the world in authenticating ceramic antiquities. Its certificates are accepted by all leading auction houses, museums, collectors and art dealers.

The technique used is thermoluminescence (TL) which gives an objective guide to when the ceramic was last fired. It was pioneered at Oxford University’s Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art (RLAHA), where Stoneham worked successfully developing research laboratory approaches into reliable commercial methods for combating art forgery. She developed a method of authenticating high-fired ceramics like stoneware and porcelains using a novel sampling approach.

Since TL depends on the radiation that the sample has been exposed to, it can be used as a dosimetry technique. Building on her extensive experience with ceramics, she was able to devise new dosimeters to measure radiation exposure at nuclear sites. As a result, she was an expert witness in crucial international evaluations of the Chernobyl and Hiroshima nuclear events.

When in 1997, RLAHA decided to move its research away from TL, Stoneham seized the opportunity to start a company to continue providing the commercial authentication service. Building on a reputation for unmatched technical expertise and for vigilance in refining techniques to beat the forgers’ tricks, Stoneham has won the trust of the international legal and art worlds. The result is that company has a world-wide clientele.

Mrs Stoneham is a rare case of one person very successfully commercialising complex technology from a small business on a truly global scale.