Much remains unknown about the origin and evolution of the elements that comprise the universe beyond those created in the Big Bang. Making significant advances in these areas requires investigations at the intersection of nuclear physics and astrophysics. Through this Physics Frontiers Centers (PFC) award the Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics - Center for the Evolution of the Elements (JINA-CEE) will focus on answering closely connected open questions related to the origin of the elements and the properties of dense matter probed by neutron stars. JINA-CEE will build on the expertise and technical developments from its past two PFC awards and use innovative laboratory experiments, combined with theoretical and computational approaches, to address the broad range of nuclear physics and astrophysics challenges underlying these science goals. The resulting insights will be integrated into comprehensive physics models of element creation and neutron stars that are then compared to existing and new observational data. JINA-CEE will continue to have educational and research impacts within the nuclear astrophysics community through its interdisciplinary workshop, school, and visitor programs. In addition it will create new multi-institutional graduate course modules and undergraduate course components while reaching out to K-12 students, teachers, and the general public.
The transition from a three element (hydrogen, helium, and lithium) universe, with a small number of isotopes, to a chemically diverse cosmos containing eighty-two long-lived elements with hundreds of isotopes, is significant and not well understood. Neutron star matter plays an important role for the origin of the elements, as it shapes the synthesis of many of the heavy elements in nature produced in core-collapse supernovae and in neutron star mergers. JINA-CEE will explore two closely interrelated questions through experimental, theoretical, and computational approaches: "How were the elements beyond hydrogen and helium created during the first billion years after the Big Bang?" and "What are the properties of neutron-rich nuclear matter and how can it be probed by observations of neutron stars?"