Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name



Physics and Astronomy

First Advisor

Robert E. Stencel

Second Advisor

Joseph L. Hora


Planetary Nebula, Post-AGB, Proto-Planetary Nebulae, Spitzer, Stellar Interferometry, Wolf-Rayet


In their death throes, stars dole out their atmospheric material to the interstellar medium in dramatic stellar winds and spectacular explosions. The details of this profound metamorphosis, from star to remnant, play a key role in the next generation of star formation as well as the energetic and chemical evolution of galaxies and the universe as a whole. Dying stars are thought to be the source of all of the nuclei heavier than iron in the universe, as well as more complex molecules, such as carbon chains, which form the backbone of life as we know it.

High mass Wolf-Rayet stars are likely progenitors of many types of Supernova, yet due to observational constraints we lack the most basic information about most of them: rather they are part of binary systems. This information is key to the determination of rather or not these stars will go supernova, since depending on its nature the companion can either draw mass off the Wolf-Rayet star, effectively quenching the march to explosion, or feed material onto the Wolf-Rayet star, speeding its demise as a supernova. Models of galactic evolution depend sensitively on the frequency of supernova for several reasons: they inject a great deal of energy into the Interstellar medium, they are the only known producers of nuclei heavier than nickel, and the shock waves that they create can stimulate star formation. In turn, the energy generated by supernova explosions drives the galactic wind, the heavier elements now present in the Interstellar Medium increase the efficiency of star formation, and the groups of new stars formed in the wake of a shock are thought to lead to the development of spiral arms in galaxies. In addition, because high mass stars are so short-lived, they can cycle through hundreds of generations in the time it takes one solar-type star's to evolve.

Though intermediate mass stars merely fizzle out in comparison, they are pivotal to the evolution of the universe because they make up over 97% of the stars that have had enough time to evolve off the Main Sequence since the Big Bang. These stars produce more than half of the carbon in the universe as well as much of the nitrogen, oxygen, and more complex molecules such as aromatic rings of carbon. This process, often referred to as chemical enrichment, strongly affects the star formation rates and the characteristics of the next generation of stars.

In this work, we explore the contributions of these two classes of stars to our own galaxy: we quantify the nature of the chemical enrichment to the Milky Way from a large sample of intermediate mass stars, and determine the binary status of a sample of Wolf-Rayet stars in the Milky Way.


Recieved from ProQuest

Rights holder

Alexa Hodgson Hart

File size

136 p.

File format