An exciting scientific experiment has successfully initiated what may become a laboratory re-creation of the cosmic reactions that gave rise to the universe.
The origin of everything we know, from the stars and galaxies, to the Earth’s mountains and the tools we use, comes from a seething sea of protons, neutrons and other subatomic particles, which formed in the early days of the universe.
When the universe was at that primordial point, a teaspoon of cosmic matter weighed more than 10,000 tons. However, more than 13,000 million years later, we still do not know how the chemical components that gave rise to everything that exists were built.
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Building blocks of matter Chemical elements are the basis of matter and all contain a central nucleus consisting of protons and neutrons, tiny particles that emerged minutes after the Big Bang, giving rise to the first atoms some 300,000 years later.
The first chemical element that originated the boiling primeval sea was hydrogen, the lightest in existence, along with helium and lithium. All other chemical elements originated when the first stars and galaxies formed, some 250 million years later.
But hydrogen and helium were the raw material from which everything we know was generated: all stars are born when they begin to fuse hydrogen to form helium. We can now recreate that mysterious process in the laboratory and observe how it happened.
Step One The first experiment culminated in June, when scientists at the University of Michigan successfully replicated in the laboratory a process believed to be involved in the production of carbon in stars: they recorded more than two million reactions and observed several cases of particle disintegration.
After this result, the scientists consider that they are in a position to obtain fundamental information about the heavy elements (with a large number of protons and neutrons) that are involved in the nuclear reactions that originated the stars, because those reactions can now be recreated in the laboratory .
They will continue with these investigations and intend to recreate the nuclear reactions that generate some of the heaviest elements in the world, from iron to uranium, according to a statement .
FRIB SOLARIS, THE KEY
FRIB SOLARIS, the key All this development has been possible because Michigan State University (MSU) is home to the world’s most powerful heavy ion accelerator, known as FRIB (Facility for Rare Isotope Beams).
FRIB enables scientists to make discoveries about the properties of rare isotopes (that is, short-lived nuclei not normally found on Earth), about nuclear astrophysics, and about fundamental interactions of matter.
To recreate the chemical processes that gave rise to the universe, FRIB scientists built and tested a new device that allows us to obtain fundamental information about heavy elements, says Ben Kay, a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory, who has led this effort.
The new device, called SOLARIS, is a new spectrometer system that is applied to the study of direct reactions with radioactive ion beams.
Great Start Uses superconducting magnets similar to those in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, like the one found in hospitals.
Solaris fires a beam of particles at a material inside a vacuum chamber – when the particles collide with the target, transfer reactions occur.
When these reactions occur, the neutrons or protons are eliminated or segregated from the nuclei, depending on the particles and their energies used in the collision, and in this way chemical reactions similar to those that caused the universe can be observed.
So far, they have replicated an excited state of a carbon isotope thought to play a key role in making carbon in stars. A great start.