Archive for Origin of the Chemical Elements


Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2012 by telescoper

I spent a pleasant evening yesterday at a public lecture arranged by Cardiff Scientific Society and given by Professor Mike Edmunds, former Head of the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University and now Emeritus Professor here. The subject of his talk was Origin of the Chemical Elements, a subject Mike has worked on for many years. Here’s the abstract of his talk:

When the Universe was 300,000 years old, the only chemical elements with significant abundance were hydrogen, helium and a small amount of lithium. All the atoms of all the other elements in the Periodic Table have been synthesised during the 13.7 billion years since that time. Research in physics and astronomy over the last 64 years has allowed us to identify the nuclear processes involved, including the importance of the humble neutron in the manufacture of the heavier elements. We now have a good picture of the astronomical sites where elements such as the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and iron in our bodies were made, including violent supernova explosions. It is a picture that appears almost, but not quite, complete.

That last sentence is tempting fate a bit, but it’s fair comment! The lecture, which I had the pleasure of chairing, was both entertaining and informative, and very warmly received by the large audience in the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre (in the National Museum of Wales).

Inevitably in a talk on this subject, the subject came up of the classic work of Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler and Hoyle in 1957 (a paper usually referred to as B2FH after the initials of its authors). It’s such an important contribution, in fact, that it has its own wikipedia page

This reminded me that one of the interesting astronomical things I’ve acquired over the years is a preprint of the B2FH paper. Younger readers will probably not be aware of preprints – we all used to post them in large numbers to (potentially) interested colleagues before publication to get comments – because in the age of the internet people don’t really bother to make them any more.

Anyway, here’s a snap of it.

It’s a hefty piece of work, and an important piece of astronomical history. In years to come perhaps it may even acquire some financial value. Who knows?