From heavy atoms to the outer galaxy : characterizing the chemistry of the Milky Way halo
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This dissertation describes our efforts to use the assembly of matter on nuclear scales as a probe of the assembly of matter on Galactic scales. To investigate the former, we characterize the detailed abundance patterns of the heaviest elements found in ancient, metal-poor stars in the Galaxy. In particular, we place new constraints on and identify several new correlations among the nuclei produced by the rapid nucleosynthetic process, which we use to refine current models of the physical conditions of this process. To investigate the latter, we apply our knowledge of stellar nucleosynthesis to examine correlations between the space motions of stars and their compositions, which retain a record of the composition of the interstellar medium where they formed many billions of years ago. Using new high quality stellar spectra collected from McDonald Observatory and Las Campanas Observatory, we confirm the relative chemical homogeneity of a well-known stellar stream and identify several chemical differences between the two major components of the stellar halo of the Galaxy. Each of these results has significant implications for our understanding of how the Galactic halo formed, grew, and evolved. More profoundly, these results indicate that we have not yet fully characterized the cosmic origins of the heaviest elements in the universe and that we will likely need to examine large samples of metal-poor stars at great distances from the Sun to potentially do so.