Looking for the Origins of Matter and the Elements
When Joni Mitchell sang, “We are stardust” more than 40 years ago, she was exactly right. Now, research in Canada using rare isotopes is deepening our understanding of how chemical elements—the ashes of ancient stars of which we are all made—are produced.
Only the lightest elements—hydrogen, helium and lithium—were present in the early universe. All heavier elements, including the raw materials for life itself, were, and are, made through nuclear reactions in stars and are spread throughout the cosmos in explosive astrophysical events. Many of the short-lived radioactive isotopes involved in these reactions have never been studied in laboratories, however, and their properties are still unknown.
As Canada Research Chair in Gamma-Ray Spectroscopy and Rare Isotope Physics, Dr. Carl Svensson is leading the development of advanced new spectrometers that measure the high-frequency light, or gamma rays, emitted by these rare isotopes. These spectrometers will allow researchers to determine the isotopes’ structural properties, and to understand their role in producing the elements.
Svensson’s team is also using the same technology to search for new forces of nature that would help explain the imbalance between matter and anti-matter in the universe.
Answers from Svensson’s research will provide new insights into the origins of the chemical elements that make up everything around us. The results may transform our most basic understanding of the origins of matter in the universe.