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Nuclear Astrophysics at TRIUMF

  Nuclear astrophysics brings together the latest developments in astronomy and theoretical and experimental nuclear physics in a quest to understand the origins and evolution of all the naturally occurring chemical elements in the universe, without which the world as we know it would not exist. Nuclear astrophysics requires an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of stars, particularly either those that die in energetic explosions such as supernovae or undergo cataclysmic thermonuclear blasts, such as novae and X-ray bursts. All the chemical elements except the very light hydrogen, helium, and lithium were created in nucleosynthesis processes in hot stellar environments such as stars, novae, and supernovae. The underlying processes that govern the evolution of these objects are the interactions between atoms, and the microscopic properties of individual nuclei.

The field of nuclear astrophysics aims to solve the mystery of the origins of the chemical elements and to understand the physics and evolution of cataclysmic variable stellar systems such as novae and X-ray bursts. Sophisticated models are used to predict and reproduce the observations seen with the latest generation of astronomical observational tools. Crucially, the nuclear physics input to the models is based on laboratory measurements, making these models as close to reality as current technology and techniques allow. Most of the key nuclear reactions that are important to the study of these environments involve short-lived radioactive nuclei.

The ISAC facility at TRIUMF is the ideal location to study these nuclei and their reactions because of its combination of beams of short-lived nuclei, variable-energy accelerators, and a suite of world-class experimental facilities. The nuclear beams, the accelerators, and experimental facilities have been optimized for studying reactions of astrophysics interest.

The Astrophysics Group

The group of Nuclear Astrophysicists at TRIUMF includes Dr. Barry Davids, Dr. Lothar BuchmannDr. Chris Ruiz and Dr. Iris Dillman. Between them they run a variety of facilities and experiments, such as DRAGON, TUDA and EMMA, in order to experimentally determine nuclear reaction rates of interest for stellar or Big Bang nucleosynthesis, and the associated astrophysics of stellar burning and explosions. Included in the group is Prof. Falk Herwig of the University of Victoria whose research is based in the modelling of stellar environments and the associated nucleosynthesis that occurs therein. 

Along with these core group members, a host of associated personnel, including TRIUMF Research Scientists whose primary research interest is in other fields but who have an interest in astrophysics, Emeriti and Postdoctoral Research Associates, form a diverse and dedicated body of scientists who try to answer the questions surrounding the Origin of the Chemical Elements and the stellar history of the universe through experimental and theoretical physics techniques.    

Image credit: wildeoates.com

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