The pivotal role of nuclear physics in nucleosynthesis processes is being investigated, in particular the intricate influence of photon strength functions (PSFs) and nuclear level densities (NLDs) on shaping the outcomes of the i-, r- and p-processes. Exploring diverse NLD and PSF model combinations uncovers large uncertainties for (p,[Formula: see text]), (n,[Formula: see text]) and ([Formula: see text],[Formula: see text]) rates across many regions of the nuclear chart. These lead to potentially significant abundance variations of the nucleosynthesis processes and highlight the importance of accurate experimental nuclear data. Theoretical insights and advanced experimental techniques lay the ground work for profound understanding that can be gained of nucleosynthesis mechanisms and the origin of the elements. Recent results further underscore the effect of PSF and NLD data and its contribution to understanding abundance distributions and refining knowledge of the intricate nucleosynthesis processes. This article is part of the theme issue 'The liminal position of Nuclear Physics: from hadrons to neutron stars'.