How Heavy Elements are Created: Supercomputers Reveal the Workings of Physics

First Posted: Dec 02, 2015 06:22 PM EST

Scientists have received some new insights when it comes to the creation of heavy elements. The researchers are now using supercomputers to create detailed simulations of the birth processes of elements inside stars.

Alpha particles, as the nuclei of the helium atom are also called, play a decisive role in the formation of heavier elements. Carbon, for instance, is formed from the fusion of these alpha particles. If another helium nucleus is added, oxygen is formed.

In this latest study, the researchers simulated the creation of these particles. This, in particular, requires great computing power. Even the fastest supercomputers in the world are just able to model the creation of the very light elements. All of the protons and neutrons flying around, from which the atomic nuclei are created, interact with one another. In addition, the wide range of theoretically possible quantum states of each particle must be taken into account.

In this latest study, the researchers used a new computational method to model a much more complex process. They examined the scattering, or deflection, of two helium nuclei, which is a reaction that encompasses a total of 8 nucleons, which is the overall term for protons and neutrons. They placed the nucleons on a virtual matrix, the state of which can be calculated efficiently with a large number of parallel processors.

The findings reveal a bit more about how heavy elements form. In addition, the new method that the researchers used could open up new perspective for simulation calculations in elementary particle physics.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

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