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Nuclear Beta Decay

My research focused on radioactive properties of the very heaviest atomic nuclei, whose half-lives are an important puzzle piece in the search for the astrophysical origin of the elements heavier than iron. In particular, I worked exclusively on \(\beta^-\) decay, a process by which a neutron bound within the atomic nucleus decays into a proton and an electron.

To calculate these half-lives, our group developed a program—a proton-neutron extension of the finite amplitude method—that significantly reduces the computational cost of certain half-life calculations [Phys. Rev. C, preprint]. Some in our group applied the program to calculate the properties of thousands of nuclei [Phys. Rev. C, preprint], and I extended the method to compute the half-lives of particularly important nuclei with odd numbers of protons and/or neutrons [Phys. Rev. C, preprint].

All this work supports astrophysical investigations into the r process, which is responsible for producing many of the heaviest elements appearing in the periodic table. This research also ties directly into LIGO's 2017 detection of a neutron star merger. These collisions between fantastically dense objects have been hypothesized to form heavy elements via the r process, and subsequent electromagnetic observations are now attempting to determine if this particular merger exhibits a telltale signature of such element formation.

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