Norman Bruce Hannay pioneer in electrochemistry worked gaseous diffusions

Norman Bruce Hannay – pioneer in electrochemistry

Category : Personalities
Published by : Data Research Analyst, Worldofchemicals.com

Biography & contributions

Norman Bruce Hannay was born on February 09, 1921 – died on June 02, 1996. Electrochemistry has also made a profound contribution to the age of computers, through the work of Norman Bruce Hannay .Hannay investigated the mechanism by which electrically charged particles are emitted from the incandescent light cathodes of vacuum tubes. He later led experiments with semiconductors, superconductors, lasers and related electronics.

He was the receiver of many medals like Acheson Medal in the year of 1976, Hannay received Perkin Medal in the year of 1983. Hannay mainly worked on gaseous diffusions

Gaseous Diffusion

During World War II, Hannay worked on gaseous diffusion for the Manhattan Project, right after receiving his Ph.D. from Princeton in physical chemistry.


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His first civilian project at Bell Laboratories was to investigate the mechanism by which electrically charged particles are emitted from the incandescent light cathodes of vacuum tubes-that is, along the same lines that Irving Langmuir at General Electric had pioneered. But at the end of 1947 Hannay's colleagues at Bell Labs invented the transistor, and his research program changed radically, to ensuring a high level of purity in the semiconductors used in transistors and later in integrated circuit chips.

Gaseous diffusion is a technology used to produce enriched uranium by forcing gaseous uranium hexafluoride (UF6) through semipermeable membranes. This produces a slight separation between the molecules containing uranium-235 (235U) and uranium-238 (238U). It was the first process to be developed that was capable of producing enriched uranium in industrially useful quantities.

Hannay's new job was to develop a mass spectrograph to analyze solids for trace impurities. Then he was chosen to lead both chemical and physical aspects of the silicon program. Although the first transistors were made from germanium, industry soon targeted silicon, with its lower cost and potential for developing a good oxide layer. To avoid contact with any other substance that would contribute impurities to silicon, Hannay's group devised a method of growing silicon crystals in a vacuum, relying on mere surface tension to suspend the crystals. This method is still used to make substrates for integrated circuit chips.


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