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Probing r-process nucleosynthesis through its electromagnetic signatures

Project description

Shedding more light on how the universe's heavy elements are formed

In nuclear astrophysics, the rapid neutron-capture process (or r-process) is a set of nuclear reactions responsible for the creation of elements heavier than iron. The detection of an electromagnetic signal associated to the gravitational wave event GW170817 provided the first indication that the fusion of two neutron stars creates the conditions for the r-process. Additional events are expected to be detected over the next years, providing further experimental clues about the r-process. The EU-funded KILONOVA project aims to improve our understanding of r-process nucleosynthesis and shed more light on how the universe's heavy elements are created. It will provide detailed descriptions of neutron-rich exotic nuclei involved in the r-process and conduct sophisticated astrophysical simulations. Furthermore, it will guide the experimental programme at future experimental facilities like FAIR where heavy r-process nuclei will be produced for the first time.


The lightest chemical elements –Hydrogen and Helium– were created about a minute after the Big Bang. Elements up to Iron are forged by fusion reactions in stars. Heavy elements between Iron and Uranium are produced by a sequence of neutron captures and beta-decays known as rapid neutron capture or r process. The freshly synthesized r-process elements undergo radioactive decay through various channels depositing energy in the ejecta that powers an optical/infrared transient called “kilonova” whose basic properties like luminosity and its dependence on ejecta mass, velocity, radioactive energy input, and atomic opacities I contributed to determine for the first time. Our predictions have been dramatically confirmed by the observation of a kilonova electromagnetic transient associated with the gravitational wave signal GW170817 providing the first direct indication that r-process elements are produced in neutron-star mergers. Additional events are expected to be detected in the following years, representing a complete change of paradigm in r-process research as for the first time we will be confronted with direct observational data. To fully exploit such opportunity it is fundamental to combine an improved description of exotic neutron-rich nuclei involved in the r-process with sophisticated astrophysical simulations to provide accurate prediction of r-process nucleosynthesis yields and their electromagnetic signals to be confronted with observational data. Based on my broad knowledge and expertise in all the relevant areas, and the unique experimental capabilities of the GSI/FAIR facility, I am in prime position to advance our understanding of r-process nucleosynthesis and determine the contribution of mergers to the chemical enrichment of the galaxy in heavy elements.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 500 000,00
64291 Darmstadt

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Hessen Darmstadt Darmstadt, Kreisfreie Stadt
Activity type
Total cost
€ 2 500 000,00

Beneficiaries (1)