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Paper: Nucleosynthesis in the Classroom
Volume: 531, ASP2020: Embracing the Future: Astronomy Teaching and Public Engagement
Page: 457
Authors: Norris, P.; Wolf, D.
Abstract: The synthesis of new elements in cosmic events is an unsettled science topic that excites the imagination. The LIGO/VIRGO collaborations observed the first gravitational waves produced from colliding neutron stars in 2017 (GW170817) and electromagnetic observations quickly followed; nuclear astrophysics and gravitational physics combined to generate the new field of MultiMessenger Astronomy (MMA). These observations changed our understanding of the origin of the heaviest elements. MMA connects to classrooms through both physical science standards (nuclear processes, energy) and earth/space science standards (Earth's Place in the Universe). 'We are Made of Starstuff' is a high school curriculum unit that explores the origin of the elements from the Big Bang through colliding neutron stars. In a rural state such as South Dakota, where few schools are large enough to support astronomy courses, it is one method for including space science standards in a chemistry curriculum. The unit has been in use in SD classrooms since 2016, and the end of the story had to be rewritten in 2018 after GW170817 was announced. In this interactive presentation, we will work through two of the activities used in this curriculum unit to model the origin of elements heavier than iron: s-process (slow neutron capture) and r-process (rapid neutron capture) nucleosynthesis. Students use their understanding of nuclear beta-decay and probability to explore these two processes at different sites in the cosmos. The activity introduces modeling, probability and nuclear beta-decay, and connects to observations and data from accelerator experiments.
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