Auburn Graduate Clarifies Origins of Matter

An Auburn University physics PhD doing postgraduate work at Princeton University recently peered into a spectroscope and discovered evidence that confirms a theory about the origins of matter and the cosmos.

Ahmad Bassam Ahmed Nemer was continuing work he started at Auburn and confirmed a theory posed by one of his former Auburn professors, Francis Robicheaux, who now works at Purdue University.

Robicheaux’s theory predicted a way to diagnose the pre-atomic building blocks of matter itself — the plasma stuff that cooked up planetary nebulae and stars.

That cooking is what physicists call the process of Rydberg Enhanced Recombination.

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Before Nemer’s observations, there had been no evidence of this interaction of pre-atomic elements, so scientific models have not used this possibility in calculations to determine the makeup of planetary nebulae.

The subject seems like the cold stuff of black holes and asteroids, yet it is essential to the warmest pulses of human nature, including spirituality. One of the earliest Christian texts, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, begins with the question, “What is matter?” — a dialogue that ends with Jesus saying, “All that is matter, all that is created, returns to the origins of matter.”

The subject should be something to get excited about on many levels.

But on the academic level, it still sounds pretty dry. Nemer’s findings were published recently in Astrophysical Journal Letters, in an articled titled “First Evidence of Enhanced Recombination in Astrophysical Environments and the Implications for Plasma Diagnostics.”

“Planetary Nebulae are one of the late stages of stellar evolution cycle, and understanding the chemical composition provides information on their formation process, the characteristics of its progenitor, and can be used as a probe for stellar evolution and galaxy metallicity,” Nemer says, by way of summing up his article.

At Auburn, Nemer’s research focused on theoretical atomic physics, and his dissertation — Discovery of Enhanced Recombination in Astrophysical Environments and the Implications for Plasma Diagnostics — focused on the study of planetary nebulae.

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