(ORDO NEWS) — Washington University in St. Louis is participating in a collaborative effort that has provided new insights into one of the primordial reactions in the universe that made all life on Earth possible.
Carbon, known throughout the world as the basic building block of life, is believed to have originated in the cores of stars. Now scientists are using an experimental apparatus to test whether the element could have formed under other circumstances.
A research team involving physicists from Texas A&M University, the University of Washington and Ohio University is using a particle accelerator known as TexAT in combination with powerful neutron beams at the John Edwards Accelerator Laboratory in Ohio to see if carbon can be produced more efficiently if there is enough flow neutrons are also present in the carbon-producing regions of stars.
Lee Sobotka, a professor of chemistry and physics in the science department, first proposed the idea of using a time projection camera to determine the effect of neutrons on the triple alpha emission process in 2017.
“This experiment combined a very special tool – an active target time projection camera – with a low-energy accelerator capable of producing near-monoenergetic neutrons,” said Sobotka, who is also a fellow at the university’s McDonnell Space Science Center.
“This is the first union of its kind, which gave an answer to the question first raised 55 years ago about creating a seed for the synthesis of heavy elements.”
In a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications, the team concluded that the role that neutrons play in creating carbon is much smaller than previously thought.
Sobotka and Robert Charity, Research Professor of Chemistry in the Department of Arts and Sciences, are co-authors of the new study, along with Nicholas Dronci, a PhD student in physics, and Victoria Ochstrom (2021 University of Washington graduate), who is currently a graduate student at MIT.
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