Nucleosynthesis and Molecular Processes in the Late Stages of Stellar Evolution

Low- to intermediate-mass (M < 8 solar masses, Ms) stars represent the majority of stars in the Cosmos. They finish their lives on the Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) - just before they form planetary nebulae (PNe) - where they experience complex nucleosynthetic and molecular processes. AGB stars are important contributors to the enrichment of the interstellar medium where new stars/planets are born (including our own Early Solar System, ESS), and to the chemical evolution of stellar systems like globular clusters (GCs) and galaxies. In particular, the more massive (M > 4-5 Ms) AGB stars synthesize very different (radio)isotopes from those formed by lower mass AGB stars and Supernova detonations, as a consequence of different nucleosynthesis mechanisms. Evolved stars in the transition phase between AGB stars and PNe also form diverse organic compounds like PAHs, and fullerene and graphene molecular nanostructures, being a wonderful laboratory for Astrochemistry. On-going massive surveys like SDSS-IV/APOGEE-2 and upcoming space-based facilities such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) represent a fundamental step forward to understand the nucleosynthesis and molecular processes in evolved stars. We aim to explore the nucleosynthesis of light and heavy (radio)isotopes in AGB stars and how they contribute to the ESS radioactive inventory as well as to the formation and evolution of GCs and galaxies. We also aim at understanding the top-down formation process of fullerene and graphene molecular nanostructures in evolved stars. Finally, we aim at using the GALEX database to discover binary central stars in Galactic PNe.