GUNTUR: A young scientist from Guntur city, Dr Panini Singam has secured the prestigious Justice Oak Award from Astronomical Society of India (ASI) for his outstanding work in detecting multilayer mirrors to capture x-rays.
ASI described that the innovative methodology scripted by Panini has led to comprehensive understanding of the design and fabrication of multi-layer mirrors. Dr Panini did his PhD from Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Bangalore under the guidance of Dr Sreekumar. ASI said that Dr Panini is presently working at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), MSFC. ASI is presenting the best thesis award to Dr Panini on Sunday.
The findings of Dr Panini are creating waves across the globe particularly in the astrophysics circles as he succeeded in capturing the X-rays with multilayer mirrors. According to experts, an accidental discovery of X-rays in 1895 by Roentgen is one of the most influential contributions to modern science and technology. These high energy electromagnetic waves quickly revolutionized many diversities of scientific research from bio-medical research to experimental quantum mechanics. Without any exception, X-ray astronomy is now a major area of interest in the field of Astronomy. Ever since the birth of X-ray astronomy in the year 1962, thousands of celestial bodies are being studied which are emitting X-rays with fascinating physics encrypted in it.
“While the scientific importance of understanding the X-ray universe is justified beyond any debate, the practice of X-ray astronomy is challenged with major technological limitations. Unlike the X-ray sources we have in our laboratories, celestial objects are often very faint and hence we need large area sensors to increase the efficiency of observation. But the major difficulty in building X-ray sensors lies in the development of mirrors which can efficiently reflect X-rays. As X-rays have small wavelengths, they pass through practically all substances with very little interaction. This makes building sensors and mirrors difficult for X-ray astronomy,” Dr Panini told ‘TOI’.
This issue is traditionally addressed by using grazing incidence mirrors where X-rays reflect at a very small angle from the surface. Crudely, this is analogous to a stone bouncing off the surface of the water when it is put at some slant angle. While grazing incidence X-ray optics is very popular in the X-ray astronomy community, however it has many limitations. Telescopes made with these types of mirrors have a small band width, small effective area and are very bulky. Combined with the fact that X-rays from celestial objects don’t enter earth’s surface because of the thick atmosphere, all X-ray telescopes have to be placed in outer space. This technique is not only costly but lays severe limitations on size and weight of the instrument.
“To address this issue, we (in collaboration with IIA, ISRO, and RRCAT) have developed multilayer mirrors which can efficiently reflect X-rays even at very high angles. Multilayer mirrors, as name suggests, contain a series of thin atomic/molecular layers of different materials on top of each other. When X-rays are incident at higher angles to the mirror, only small fraction rays are reflected while most of them just get transmitted. Since there are multiple layers of different materials on the top of each other, at each layer interface, the wave gets divided into transmitted and reflection components. Over a large number of layers, all the reflected component of X-rays at each layer gets added up to give an overall enhanced reflectivity from the mirror,” said Dr Panini.