Take the 2-minute tour ×
Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I appreciate your patience to my neophyte question. I am working on my dissertation in philosophy (which has nothing or little to do with physics) about the "problem of naming." Briefly what I am arguing is that when we name something, we stop it from being anything or everything else. It is a phenomenological question and has a lot to do with language as an object. My question for you is that, is it true that all matter was somehow formed in the Big Bang or in those famous three minutes following? I think I understand that helium and hydrogen were formed and are they then to be considered the basis of all matter today? A friend said to me a long time ago that we are made of the same atoms that were present at the Big Bang; could this possibly be true? (And how wonderful if it is...) Thanks in advance.

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

The closer to the Big Bang you look, the more fundamental are the particles that constitute the universe (quarks, leptons, etc.) - go far back enough and you reach the point where only a field description makes sense because of the curvature of the universe.

But after the 3rd minute and up to around the 20th minute, the universe had cooled down enough for nuclei to form and yet was hot enough for fusion to occur. This was the period of nucleosynthesis when the first elements in the periodic table were forged. Most of the nuclei formed were hydrogen and helium and their various isotopes but there were also trace amounts of lithium and beryllium.

This is confirmed today in the precise ratio of elements observed in the universe with the significant abundance of hydrogen and helium, and is one of the best numerical confirmations of the Big Bang theory.

Rocky planets and humans and what not however require higher elements like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and silicon to form. These were not formed in the Big Bang like H and He. They were forged at the centres of stars and dispersed in violent supernovae explosions that took place millions to billions of years after the Big Bang.

That still is pretty wonderful - that every atom in our body has its origins in either stardust or the Big Bang.

share|improve this answer

Hydrogen and helium (and lithium) were formed in the big bang, but other elements arose later through a variety of different routes, including stellar and supernova nucleosynthesis, as well as fission and spallation. So only some of your atoms are truly primordial.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.