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Novel particle detector used to study alternate path to carbon creation in stars

Washington University in St. Louis is part of a collaboration that has yielded new insight into one of the universe’s primordial reactions that made all life on Earth possible. Carbon is generally thought by scientists to have formed inside the cores of stars. Now scientists are using an experimental apparatus to test whether the element could have been produced under additional circumstances.

A research collaboration involving physicists from Texas A&M University, Washington University and Ohio University is using a particle accelerator known as TexAT in combination with powerful neutron beam lines at Ohio’s John E. Edwards Accelerator Laboratory. Scientists wanted to see if carbon can be more efficiently produced if a sufficient flux of neutrons is also present in the carbon-producing regions in stars.

Lee Sobotka, professor of chemistry and of physics first proposed the idea of using a time-projection chamber to determine the influence of neutrons on the triple-alpha process in 2017. The team concluded that the role that neutrons play in the creation of carbon is much smaller than previously thought. Sobotka and Robert Charity, research professor of chemistry in Arts & Sciences, are co-authors of the new study, along with Nicolas Dronchi, a graduate student in physics, and Viktoria Ohstrom, now a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


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