Published: 02 June 2020

Nuclear Physics Group explores direct measurements of nuclear fusion in stars

Surrey’s Nuclear Physics Group has conducted novel measurements of nuclear fusion rates in massive stars – contributing to understanding of the formation of elements on Earth ranging from carbon to iron.

Equipment used for the experiment at the IPN-Laboratory, Paris.
Equipment used for the experiment at the IPN-Laboratory, Paris.

The research, which was published in ‘Physical Review Letters’ in May, is the result of an experiment undertaken at the IPN-Laboratory in Paris by the STELLA collaboration. This collaboration brings together Surrey physicists with researchers from the Universities of Strasbourg, Paris and York, as well as the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and French Atomic Energy Agency.

Nuclear fusion processes in stars are understood to be behind the formation of elements found on Earth, ranging from carbon (atomic number 6) up to iron (atomic number 26).

For the duration of the one-month experiment, rotating carbon foils were bombarded with one hundred million million particles per second. While only a tiny fraction of these collisions achieve fusion, the experiment succeeded in producing interesting data, particularly for the lowest-energy collision rate, providing an unambiguous experimental fingerprint for fusion between carbon nuclei.

Dr Gavin Lotay, Director of Teaching and Learning in the Department of Physics, said: “This high impact research work provides another example of the Surrey group’s leadership at the forefront of particle-gamma coincidence techniques for both nuclear structure and nuclear astrophysics research.”

The research paper, ‘Advances in the Direct Study of Carbon Burning in Massive Stars’ was published in ‘Physical Review Letters’ on 12 May 2020. The Surrey research team included Professor Wilton Catford, Dr Gavin Lotay, Professor Zsolt Podolyak and Professor Patrick Regan.


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