Astronomy: Ragazzoni and Salinari awarded the Feltrinelli Prize 2016 for the development of adaptive optics
One of the most relevant advanced technologies for the design of new and next generation terrestrial telescopes is adaptive optics: a branch that aims to improve the quality of images produced by telescopes, by correcting distortions due to atmospheric turbulence.
A significant contribution to the development and diffusion of this field of research comes from Italy, thanks to the activity of Roberto Ragazzoni and Piero Salinari from the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF). The two scientists were recently awarded the Feltrinelli Prize 2016 in Astronomy by the Accademia dei Lincei, for having created in Italy a school on astronomical adaptive optics, which is internationally recognized for its excellence, as demonstrated by the participation in large international projects related to the design of new and next generation telescopes.
Considered the “Italian Nobel Prize”, the award, established by entrepreneur and artist Antonio Feltrinelli, is given annually by the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in five different disciplines. The Feltrinelly Prize in Astronomy this year went to the two scientists for having developed two innovative elements which, used jointly, allowed obtaining a system with great advantages for astronomical investigation, able to reach the highest adaptive correction ever obtained in the near infrared.
Roberto Ragazzoni conceived and developed the “pyramid” wavefront sensor: an element able to increase the optical quality of images, in terms of achievable sensitivity and performance, which has great advantages compared to the previous versions already in use in the astronomical field. Conceived in 1995, the pyramid wavefront sensor is implemented experimentally for the Galileo National Telescope: a starting point for the development of image cameras and of new large field adaptive optics systems which, tested on the Very Large Telescope in Chile, will be built on board the LINC/NIRVANA instrument of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT), in Arizona. Piero Salinari conceived and developed technologies aimed at using the secondary mirror of the telescope as a wavefront corrector. While highlighting the benefits that could result from the use of an adaptive secondary for large telescopes, the scientist proposed the construction of one for the Large Binocular Telescope.
“No doubt this recognition rewards primarily the determination of all those who wanted to implement new ideas in the Large Binocular Telescope, without any delay or scepticism, a real laboratory of ideas, before being a laboratory of glass and metal”, said Ragazzoni after receiving the award in an interview released to Media INAF. “Among the many who have turned ideas into reality, along with many colleagues, also industries, first of all Italian industry. This result is now scientifically capitalized also on other telescopes and in interesting orders from around the world”, Salinari added.