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Optimizing telescope design for X-ray astronomy missions

Project Description

Optimization plays a key role in industry: manufactured products are constantly optimized to improve performance and reliability. This research project focuses on a fascinating class of optimization problems known as structural optimization.

Structural optimization aims at improving the geometric design of product components. This is challenging for two reasons. First, the geometry of a design can be modified in infinitely many ways, and it is difficult to anticipate which geometric modifications are beneficial. Second, new designs must be tested in laboratories to verify their performance, which requires re-fabrication. This results in a difficult, expensive, and time-consuming iterative process.

This project aims at accelerating the structural optimization of X-ray telescope components. The University of Leicester has a strong expertise in X-ray astronomy and collaborates closely with the European Space Agency (ESA). For example, the University of Leicester has developed sophisticated glass optics for the ESA mission BepiColombo, which was launched in October 2018. These glass optics focus X-rays on the telescope’s detector, and are mounted on a support structure that must be precisely calibrated to the correct position, while being both lightweight and sufficiently robust to tolerate mechanical stresses due to vibrations during the telescope launch. This was a challenging task that has been overcome with intense efforts.

Support structures of this kind are ubiquitous in X-ray telescopes, but their optimal design depends on the telescope specifics. To accelerate the design process, we will model these 3D-structures using 2D-surfaces, also called thin-shell models, by exploiting the fact that their thickness is very small compared to their volume. Using advanced mathematics, we will use this dimension reduction to achieve faster numerical simulations. Theoretical efforts will be complemented with the development of a high-performance computing software. This software will be used to optimize the design of optics support structures of the X-ray telescopes developed at the University of Leicester.

Entry requirements

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.
English language requirements may apply


Project Specific :
Application Specific :

How to apply

Please refer to

Eligibility: UK/EU (Residency Requirements for EU in accordance with UKRI)

Funding Notes

3.5 Year funding:
RCUK Rate Stipend
*Competitive Funding*


I. Munghan and J.F. Abel, Fifty years of progress for shell and spatial structures, International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures, Madrid, 2011.

J. Kiendl, R. Schmidt, R. Wüchner, and K.-U. Bletzinger, Isogeometric shape optimization of shells using semi-analytical sensitivity analysis and sensitivity weighting, Computer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering 274, pp. 148-167, 2014.

R. Pinnau, M. Hinze, M. Ulbrich, S. Ulbrich, Optimization with PDE constraints, Springer, New York, 2009.

T. Liu, J.-H. Zhu, W.-H. Zhang, H. Zhao, J. Kong, T. Gao, Integrated layout and topology optimization design of multi-component systems under harmonic base acceleration excitations, Structural and Multidisciplinary Optimization 59(4), pp. 1053-1073, 2019.

P. O'Brien, E. Bozzo, R. Willingale, I.Hutchinson, J. Osborne, L. Amati, and D. Götz, The Soft X-ray Imager (SXI) on-board the THESEUS mission,
arXiv preprint arXiv:1802.01675, 2018.

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