Scientists Plan To Recreate Star’s Nuclear Fusion Process

Jul 13, 2017

Credit Chynna Lockett

A new machine in the Sanford Underground Lab is helping scientists study the elements of the universe. This is the first of its kind in the United States.

The Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophysical Research, or CASPAR, project is getting ready to collect data about the universe. CASPAR uses a low-energy particle accelerator beam to help scientists understand what elements stars create.

Michael Wiescher is a professor of Nuclear Physics and lab director at the University of Notre Dame. He says the first stars were formed almost 400 million years after what scientists refer to as the big bang. But there have been many star generations since then. Humans are made of some of the same elements found in stars.

“And these star generations are being built gradually. And we have partnered with astronomers which observe that and sort of follow—depending on the age of the star—what elements are on the surface and things like that. So when I take all the elements in your bodies, about 50 percent is done in the big bang. The rest is done over several generations of stars.”  

Wiescher says these elements keep stars alive, kind of like an engine. He says different elements are gradually added to each star generation.

Credit Chynna Lockett

“So when you look at the abundance distribution today, you have a big mess from all sorts of stellar sources—explosions, stellar burning. And our task is sort of to analyze that. To see what comes from there.”

He says that can help researchers understand how long stars live and how the earth developed. Wiescher says the research involves nuclear physics, astronomy and others fields of study. He says CASPAR had to be placed nearly a mile underground to prevent cosmic rays from interfering. The team plans to start collecting data in the fall.