2014 Gabor medal and prize

Professor Brian Tanner, University of Durham. For his research on, and practical realisation of, metrologies and technologies that contribute direct improvement to industrial performance and for his contribution to the understanding of the fundamental science behind engineering processes.

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Throughout his career, Tanner has tackled materials physics problems that are closely related to industrial needs. He has turned the esoteric, specialist technique of high resolution double axis x-ray diffraction into a technology that is now routinely used by industrial engineers around the globe and the associated spin-out company Bede Scientific, which floated in 2000, was chosen by a major semiconductor manufacturer for in-fab x-ray metrology of the SiGe layers on its computer chips.

Following the realisation from the high-resolution x-ray diffraction measurements that the crystals grown by multi-tube vapour transport had potential for fabrication of spectroscopic-resolution x-ray detectors, four Durham colleagues and Tanner transformed that potential into an industrial process through the company Kromek, which floated on AIM in 2013. The application of CdZnTe detectors to multi-spectral inspection at airport security, their incorporation into high speed spectroscopic detectors (in use at Fukushima nuclear power plant) and advanced CT systems illustrate the broad range of impact.

Brian’s understanding of the mechanisms underpinning ad hoc engineering recipes has enabled departures from existing processes. For example, his grazing incidence x-ray scattering studies of the polishing of alumina provided a UK ceramics manufacturer with sufficient confidence to remove a step from their process, resulting in a multi-million pound annual saving.

Brian Tanner's more recent work to determine the likelihood of catastrophic wafer failure using x-ray diffraction images provides process engineers for the first time with a quantitative tool to assess the level of risk in continuing to operate a fabrication line with slightly-damaged wafers. X-ray tools based on this work are already commercially available. The cost saving per fabrication line will be multi-million annually.