Chandra telescope designer wins 2002 Rossi Prize
Posted: January 27, 2002

Leon Van Speybroeck of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts has been awarded the 2002 Bruno Rossi Prize of the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society.

The Rossi Prize recognizes significant recent contributions in high-energy astrophysics. It is awarded annually in honor of the late Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Bruno Rossi, an authority on cosmic ray physics and a pioneer in the field of X-ray astronomy. The prize also includes an engraved certificate and a $1,500 award.

Van Speybroeck, who led the effort to design and make the X-ray mirrors for NASA's premier X-ray observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, was recognized for a career of stellar achievements in designing precision X-ray optics. As Telescope Scientist for Chandra, he has worked for more than 20 years with a team that includes scientists and engineers from the Harvard-Smithsonian, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, TRW, Inc., Hughes-Danbury (now B.F. Goodrich Aerospace), Optical Coating Laboratories, Inc., and Eastman-Kodak on all aspects of the X-ray mirror assembly that is the heart of the observatory.

"Leon is one of the master mirror designers of our time," said Harvey Tananbaum, director of the Chandra X-ray Center. "His contributions were crucial to the spectacular success of the Chandra mission."

The Chandra mirrors are the most precise mirrors ever made, smooth with tolerances of a few atoms. If the state of Colorado had the same relative smoothness as the surface of the Chandra X-ray Observatory mirrors, Pike's Peak would be less than an inch tall. The smoothness and alignment of the Chandra's mirrors are enabling scientists to make new discoveries about black holes, neutron stars, and galactic explosions.

"Many, many other people made essential contributions to the Chandra program, and hopefully some of them will receive proper recognition," said Van Speybroeck. "In the meantime, I am thoroughly enjoying my days in the sun, but quite humbled by the list of past recipients."

Van Speybroeck, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, once took a course in optics under Rossi, but his thesis work was in high-energy physics. Upon graduation, he joined the X-ray astronomy group at American Science & Engineering and became involved in the design of the X-ray mirrors for NASA's Skylab project. After moving to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, he had primary responsibility for designing and developing the mirrors for the Einstein X-ray Observatory, the predecessor of the Chandra X-ray Observatory.