Leon van Speybroeck, widely recognized as the premier X-ray telescope mirror designer, died on December 25, 2002 in Newton, Massachusetts at the age of 67.
As the Telescope Scientist for NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, van Speybroeck was intimately involved in every phase of the design and development of the High Resolution Mirror Assembly. His work with scores of engineers and scientists at the Center for Astrophysics, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, TRW, Inc., Hughes-Danbury (now BF Goodrich Aerospace), Optical Coating Laboratories, Inc. and Eastman-Kodak over a period of two decades was critical to the success that Chandra now enjoys.
"Leon was one of the best instrumentalists I ever knew and a dear colleague and friend," said Nobel Physics laureate Riccardo Giacconi of Associated Universities, Inc. in Washington, DC, who established and led the team that built the first X-ray telescopes. "Together with Giuseppe Vaiana he perfected the X-ray telescopes which were used for solar research in the late 60's and early 70's. He was directly responsible for the development of the Einstein and Chandra X-ray telescopes. Leon's contributions were essential to the achievement of Chandra's angular X-ray resolution, the highest yet obtained in X-ray astronomy. Many of the outstanding scientific results from Chandra could not have been obtained without it. He brought to his work complete intellectual integrity and a search for excellence. We all feel his loss as a colleague and a friend."
"A giant of X-ray astronomy has passed from our midst," said Irwin Shapiro, director of the Center for Astrophysics, where van Speybroeck spent most of his career. "Leon was also a wonderful person, always modest, unfailingly helpful to anyone in need, and ever precise and accurate in his statements."
Van Speybroeck, a native of Wichita, Kansas, graduated in 1957 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received a Ph. D. in nuclear physics in 1965. After graduating, he joined Giacconi's X-ray astronomy group at American Science & Engineering where he became involved in the design of the X-ray mirrors on Skylab. After moving to the Center for Astrophysics in 1973, he had primary responsibility for designing and developing the mirrors for the Einstein X-ray Observatory, the predecessor to Chandra.
In recognition of his contributions to X-ray optics, van Speybroeck was awarded the 2002 Bruno Rossi Prize of the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society. On learning of this honor, he commented, "Many, many other people made essential contributions to the Chandra program, and hopefully some of them will receive proper recognition. I am thoroughly enjoying my days in the sun, but am quite humbled by the list of past recipients."
One of our favorite memories of Leon is the wonder and elation he would express when he viewed early Chandra images. Although he had labored heroically for years in the face of formidable technical challenges and never wavered in his conviction that an X-ray telescope could be built to produce high-resolution images, he beamed with excitement every time he saw the fruits of his efforts.
Leon truly loved his family, his friends and colleagues, and his work.
We will miss him dearly and will think of him often as exciting new Chandra results appear.
Harvey Tananbaum, Wallace & Karen Tucker
FIGURE 7: The first image received from Chandra, showing that the mirrors and the rest of the instrument were doing their job. Bystanders in the control room dubbed the source Leon X-1.