Turning Stars into Gold
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Most beginning chemistry students struggling with the complexities and underlying structure of the Periodic Table will simply accept the existence of the approximately 90 stable elements. Rarely does it occur to them that somewhere and in some way, all of the elements had to be synthesized. Such element generation or nucleosynthesis, through transmutation of one element into another, is a crucial byproduct of stellar energy generation. It has occurred since the birth of the first stars in the Galaxy, and without it life on Earth would not be possible. Although the general picture of element formation is well understood, many questions about the nuclear physics processes and particularly the astrophysical details responsible for forming precious elements such as platinum and gold remain to be understood.