Prof Cairns, or Jim, as he was known to his many friends and colleagues, died after a short illness at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee on 31st March 2018.
Jim was born on 1st July 1936 and was a native of Clydebank. He was educated in St Patrick's High School in Dumbarton and, having obtained more than the required exam qualifications, in 1954 he enrolled on a (BSc Pure Science) degree course at Glasgow University.
Jim qualified with an Honours Degree in 1958 and chose to take up a career as a science teacher. In 1964, despite having married and started a family, he made the difficult career changing decision to accept a research grant to study for a postgraduate degree in the University Chemistry Dept at Glasgow. This illustrated his confidence in his abilities and was to prove the correct decision, as demonstrated by his subsequent meritorious record in scientific research. The topic of his Thesis was "Chemical Effects of the Irradiation of Solids" in the Catalyst group led by the late Prof Sam Thompson.
On graduation in 1967 he was appointed as a Senior Scientific Officer in the Metallurgy Division of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE), Harwell, the main research laboratory of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).
Harwell had a worldwide reputation as a Centre of Excellence in a range of disciplines necessary to support the application of nuclear energy. In 1965 the Science and Technology Act had changed the emphasis of Harwell requiring it to apply this capability into "research and development in any sciences" to provide commercial gain for the UK. This was a golden opportunity for Jim to apply his undoubted research capability into new fields and applications in a fertile environment under the dynamic Directorship of Walter Marshall.
Development of Ion beams for X ray Generation
With his knowledge of effects of radiation on surfaces and catalysis he developed techniques using proton beams to generate X rays to provide information on composition of surfaces. He also designed a novel type of gas flow proportional counter for detecting low energy X-rays and this was patented and marketed commercially.
These techniques were applied to a range of materials including the rapidly expanding field of integrated circuit development and led to a number of papers and further patents. In 1972 his work caught the interest of scientists at IBM Research Laboratories, Yorktown Heights, New York. Jim Zeigler his collaborator at IBM states "Jim Cairns had already made a name for himself in x-ray analysis when I met him and invited him to spend a summer (one of four) at IBM-Research to study IC materials using x-rays. I had installed a 3 MeV proton accelerator at IBM and was looking at material analysis using nuclear reactions. He suggested that we might try looking at the ultra-thin surface materials using proton induced x-rays, because the background radiation would be far lower than standard x-ray analysis using electron beams. We were amazed by the results, with backgrounds dropping by almost 100 times. The technique showed the accurate measurements of metals and compounds with thicknesses far lower than one micron, which had never been accurately measured before. The experiments led to three of the first papers on material analysis using ion-beam x-ray" and an exchange relationship with IBM which lasted over a period of 10 years.
Jim extended this technique to the use of a range of accelerated heavy ions and applied this to the study of a number of materials including silicon and copper.
With his knowledge and interest in heterogeneous catalysis, derived from his work at Glasgow, Jim cofounded The Harwell Catalyst Unit. This was one of a number of R&D units set up at Harwell to enable collaboration with and within UK industries in solution of common technical problems.
Difficulties had been identified with the mechanical properties of ceramic monoliths used in motor vehicle catalysts for reduction of hazardous gaseous emissions. Jim recognised the value of the alumina layer on the surface of a specialist corrosion resistant steel (FeCralloy), developed for use in nuclear reactors, as a stable support for precious metal catalysts. This novel approach was developed in conjunction with Johnson Matthey and was patented and subsequently licensed to them. Significantly the use of alumina on FeCralloy as a catalyst support was applied subsequently to minimise carbon deposits in operating reactors, a classic example of cross fertilisation resulting from diversification.
In 1972 he was promoted to the grade of Principal Scientific Officer normally seen as the career grade for scientists within the scientific civil service.
In 1979 Jim submitted a thesis, based on 35 scientific papers and patent specifications, entitled "Ion Beams and Catalysis" to Glasgow University for which he was awarded the degree of DSc.
Sol Gel Processing
Sol Gel technology had been developed within the UKAEA for nuclear fuel production. Jim saw the opportunities this process provided for production of new catalyst support materials by tailoring such parameters as chemical purity, composition, surface area, porosity and thermal stability. A significant number of materials were prepared for specific applications which subsequently became the basis for patent applications. He also developed the sol gel process for protective coatings in electronic applications. This included demonstrating their value for protecting computer memory chips from soft errors caused by background radiation.
RF Gas Plasma Applications
In 1978 Jim set up a team to study the basic processes involved in using RF gas plasma discharges. These were applied in two main areas
The accumulation of carbonaceous deposits on surfaces exposed to gases containing hydrocarbons or carbon monoxide was a problem common to both nuclear and non-nuclear applications. Using plasma arc techniques Jim was able to successfully solve carbon deposition problems encountered by Rolls Royce in potential overheating of jet engines and with carbon deposits on fuel elements in Advanced Gas Cooled reactors.
Etching of Semiconductors
Bob Smailes, one of Jim's collaborators in this area states "We co-wrote an application to DTI for studying the surface chemistry involved in plasma etching of silicon and simultaneously to the EU for a similar study on GaAs jointly with the Fraunhoffer Institute in Berlin. Each required industrial consortia, the former in the UK and the latter across the EU. Both were founded on the work being done by Jim on plasma studies looking at surface properties of materials and depositions in nuclear reactors and are therefore examples of his ability to transfer basic science in one field to real commercial application in another. As both applications were successful and very valuable they led to the creation of a state of the art laboratory for this work. We created / participated in several major industrial consortia which were able to create a larger impact than individual contracts with firms". Funding was also obtained from MoD.
In 1981 Jim's contribution to the Harwell scientific research programme was formally recognised and he was promoted to a Banded grade Scientific Officer. He was also appointed head of the Applied Chemistry Group. As such, he was responsible for directing the research of approximately 50 scientific and technical staff on a wide range of topics including catalysis, ceramics and semiconductor materials. The Atomic Energy Authority Act in 1986 put the UKAEA into a Trading Fund mode, requiring it to act and account as though it were a commercial enterprise and become self-financing. This placed increasing responsibilities on staff to justify their research and to source funding for it.
In addition to his own research and line management responsibilities, Jim assumed responsibility for the fundamental research on Chemical Effects at Surfaces for the UKAEA. This along with related programmes was funded by the Rothschild Levy charged on all externally funded programmes within the UKAEA and was aimed at maintaining a national scientific capability. He was also a member of the UKAEA Scientific Staff Promotion Board.
By this time, he was the author or co author of more than 50 papers published in the open literature and was also the author of 25 patents, more than any other staff member at the Harwell Laboratory. Bob Smailes his colleague at Harwell and subsequently at Dundee comments "Jim was not only interested in the science solely for the sake of it but also to see how it could be applied into something useful for society and was therefore keenly interested in patenting and seeing any inventions made taken to the market. Of course, not all patents succeed for a range of reasons. Jim's talent was to spot the potential of a result and pursue it."
In 1988 he was Promoted to Senior Staff- the highest scientific grade in the UKAEA.
UNIVERSITY of DUNDEE
Microelectronics and Materials Science
In 1989, at the instigation of Prof Peter LeComber, who, with Prof Walter Spear had produced the first photovoltaic device in amorphous silicon and the first amorphous silicon transistor, Jim was offered the position of professor of Microelectronics and Materials Science at the University of Dundee. The aim of this position was to work on new areas of high potential exploitability for the University.
Centre for Materials Research
Based on his own experience in a range of disciplines at Harwell and existing capabilities at Dundee he set up the Centre for Materials Research in the University. This combined microelectronics, amorphous silicon, and physical chemistry. He was also responsible for producing the General Engineering submission for the University Research Assessment Exercise. This included the Materials Research referred to above, as well as Mechanical Engineering and Remote Sensing.
His research interests included the invention, along with Dr J Thomson, of a novel Pd/Zn vehicle exhaust catalyst which was subsequently granted worldwide patent cover.
They also invented a new method for producing high density electronic structures and interconnects using a range of organometallic compounds.
Again, recognising a problem of increasing environmental concern Jim invented and developed a new process for removal of deleterious diesel emissions from motor vehicles.
He also invented and developed a range of novel miniature sensors for the detection of combustible gases leading to the creation of the
Centre for Design and Fabrication of Micro-Engineered Chemical Sensors
This unit was set up in 1998 with the support of a £650k grant from the Scottish Higher Education funding Council.
The ground- breaking work being carried out in a number of new technologies at Dundee, and in particular by Jim and his research team was recognised in May 2000 by the formation of AMCET, a new spin-off company from the University in conjunction with Scottish Enterprise. This was seen as a model for the commercialisation of University research and a boost for Scotland's new knowledge economy. This represented a total investment of £5.5M of which Scottish Enterprise contributed £2.4M.
A major theme of AMCET was the further development and application of organometallic compounds whose unique characteristics allow them to dramatically shrink interconnect features within silicon chips. Prof Sandy Fitzgerald who worked closely with Jim on this research states "The technique involved electron-induced decomposition of a new range of organometallic compounds to form high resolution conducting metallic lines with possible applications for specialised electrical circuitry. Structures at the nanoscale were created by direct electron beam writing. Very early in this project the initial results of the study were presented at the International Centennial Symposium on the Electron at the University of Cambridge.
Looking ahead it was generally accepted that the realisation of features with dimensions less than 65nm would require a new type of lithography. The primary objective of Jim's research programme in this area was to demonstrate how such a patterned metal layer could be achieved. Not by conventional methods but by involving metal-containing organic compounds. X-ray masks would be formed by depositing a film of a suitable metal-containing organic compound on a membrane and then converting the film to metal on selected areas by use of electron beam irradiation without causing damage to the membrane but producing high resolution metal patterns. The non-irradiated film areas could then be removed easily without disturbing the metal patterns.
The next step in the project was to use the Central Laser Facility of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory to demonstrate the applicability of these X-ray masks. This objective was successful, and the details were published in the Central Laser Facility Annual Report 2001/2002. During this research it was also shown that metal-rich features can be produced by direct UV irradiation of the same compounds"
In 2001 a separate spin-off company was formed and licensed by AMCET "to develop applications and products based on a technology invented by Professor Cairns and his research team at the University of Dundee and to raise £2m to support the product development and take these products to market". Jim was appointed a Board member and was to continue development as Chief Technical Officer. A major contribution to the success of this venture was Jim's ability to convince entrepreneurs of the commercial potential of his developments and for them to participate and invest in the technology. He was also honoured by appointment as Emeritus Professor of Microelectronics and Materials Science in 2001 and continued to work within the University.
The three main technologies forming the initial portfolio for AKTINA were:
Novel miniature sensors for the detection of combustible gases.
New robust substrate for vehicle exhaust catalysts.
New method for removing Diesel particulates.
In addition to providing topics for Jim's own research students and post graduates, the work sponsored from within AKTINA provided research opportunities and capital investment in other research areas of The University. Professor Fitzgerald comments "The surface science UHV instrument that we used to analyse surfaces using Auger Electron Spectroscopy was acquired as part of a research project with Ferranti and the MOD. One of the outcomes of the setting up AKTINA and AMCET was the addition of three very important instruments to our Analytical Laboratory. These were a state-of the art Scanning Electron Microscope, an Atomic Force Microscope and a Scanning Tunneling. Jim's work in making the case for this upgrading of the Department's analytical facilities was brilliant and made us one of very few laboratories in the UK that had such a wide range of analytical instruments.
In another project the scanning tunneling microscope was used to modify the surface of YBa2Cu3O7-x (YBCO) high Tc superconducting thin films by operating the instrument in the field-induced evaporation mode. Nanostructures such as holes, lines and trenches were fabricated in the YBCO thin film surface in a controlled manner. Nanostructures in diamond films have also been investigated. This experimental technique could find applications in the characterisation of shallow-doped semiconductor devices"
Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship
In 2003 Jim was granted a patent for" a process for production of an aqueous dispersion of metal nano particles comprising palladium. These dispersions can be used as catalysts for electroless plating, to produce heterogeneous catalysts and in production of anti microbial devices and compositions". In 2010 he was awarded a Leverhulme Emeritus fellowship to take this work further. Right up to the time of his untimely death Jim was very enthusiastic about the potential of silver nano dispersions as biocides and was working closely with Ninewells Hospital to assess their practical application and effectiveness.
Membership of External Bodies
Jim became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1967 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1994 where he was a member of the Fellowship Committee of the Electrical and Electronic Engineering section.
He was a member of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory Review Panel which assesses the scientific quality of applications for access to the facilities, including the Laser Plasma X Ray Source.
Jim was author, or co-author, of more than 150 scientific publications and 40 patents.
Contribution to Science at Dundee University
Jim loved working at Dundee University and was inspired by the opportunities it provided. He was actively involved in his research right up to his death at the age of 81. Ironically, Jim had been asked to present, and was preparing when he died, the keynote lecture at a University event to commemorate the work of Peter LeComber and Walter Spear, who were instrumental in Jim coming to Dundee, This was held the week after his death.
Asked to comment on the bases of Jim's contribution to the University his colleague and friend, Prof Sandy Fitzgerald, summarised as follows
" Jim's ability to attract financial support for important projects, much of it related to his contacts outside the University. His ability in making valuable contacts and friendships with important industrialists in Scotland
Jim's enthusiasm for research and his ability to identify important research
His ability to enthuse his research students and post-docs
His willingness to work with scientists from other departments in the University. His ability to work with members from local and national industry
He has continued Walter Spear and Peter LeComber's work in Materials and continued the University of Dundee's Materials Research Excellence "
Professor Sir Pete Downes, principal of the University of Dundee, has also commented: "Jim's extraordinary inventiveness and his determination to create things of practical and economic value based on his research has had a great influence on the ethos of the University and, on me, personally. This continued right up until his untimely death. He will be greatly missed, but the University is thriving by delivering through the values that Jim represented."
Jim was a dedicated loving husband, father and grandfather and is survived by a daughter living in Norway, and two sons, both living in the USA, and seven grandchildren, all of whom he was justifiably proud. He was a gentle man, with a strong Christian conviction and empathy. His enthusiasm for scientific achievement was infectious and he had the ability to explain scientific principles in a simple and understandable manner, possibly related to his initial training as a school teacher.
Following the diagnosis of her terminal illness he cared for his wife May, who had been most supportive of his scientific career, for a number of years until she died in 2015. Jim was invited and continued after her death as Chairman of the Residents Support Group for the Nursing Home in which May spent her final years.
Dr John S Hislop