English physicist who worked mainly in tribology, the study of friction and wear between solid surfaces.
Tabor was born in London and studied there at the Royal College of Science. From 1946 he worked at Cambridge in the Cavendish Laboratory, becoming professor in 1973.
Tabor showed that the low friction of Teflon is due not to poor adhesion but to molecular structure, and worked on the self-lubrication of polymers by incorporating surface materials into the polymer itself. A study of the friction of rubber led to the introduction of high-hysteresis rubber into vehicle tyres as means of increasing their skid-resistance.
Tabor researched into the shear properties of molecular films of long-chain organic molecules as an extension of earlier work on the mechanism of boundary lubrication, and showed that the shear strength of these materials rises sharply when they are subjected to high pressure. This sheds light on the mechanism of thin film lubrication.
Tabor's work on the hardness of solids includes an explanation of the indentation hardness of metals, plastic indentation and elastic recovery, the first correlation of hardness behaviour with the creep properties of the material (hot-hardness), a study of scratch hardness, and a simple physical explanation of Mohs scale (used in the testing of minerals).
The results of his study of the creep of polycrystalline ice have a bearing on the flow of glaciers.
Studying the adhesion of steel to cement, Tabor demonstrated the important role of shear stresses in compacting the cement.