The Carl Sagan quote “We are all made of starstuff” refers to the fact that nearly all the elements which are important for human life (calcium, oxygen, iron, etc.) were forged in stars. These processes are still on-going today and hence there is an evolution in the chemical composition of our galaxy. Because different elements are built in different process that take place in different kinds of stars they are not uniformly distributed. Another system of planets may, potentially, look chemically quite different to our own.
My research focuses on understanding just how unevenly different groups of elements are distributed and what that can tell us about the kinds of processes those elements were built in. Using fluid dynamic simulations of gas interactions in the disks of galaxies I try to constrain the link between the source of an element and its distribution in stars. I am particularly interested in what this connection implies about the astrophysical site of the rapid neutron capture (r-)process. The r-process is responsible for the production of about half the elements heavier than iron, notably, silver, gold and uranium and research is still ongoing to understand where in the Universe this process happens.