Todd Pedlar receives $135,000 NSF grant to support research in elementary particle physics

Nov. 2, 2009

Todd Pedlar, Ph.D., Luther College assistant professor of physics, has received a three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for $135,000 to support his research in elementary particle physics. 

The grant will fund research activities in the study of heavy quarkonia under the NSF’s Research at Undergraduate Institutions program. The funding enables continued research at Luther as part of the ongoing work of the CLEO-c Collaboration, a sub-atomic research collaboration of roughly 100 physicists whose work is based at the Cornell University Laboratory for Elementary-Particle Physics. 

Pedlar will serve as the principal investigator for the research, assisted by undergraduate students that he mentors. This project is made possible by Pedlar’s high level of involvement with the CLEO-c Collaboration, of which he has been a member for the past 10 years.

The CLEO-c experiment, and its predecessor CLEO, have studied the physics of heavy quark mesons and heavy quarkonia for more than 30 years and are recognized as a world leader in heavy quark physics. The NSF-funded Luther project will continue CLEO investigation of the details of heavy quarkonium spectra.

The unique capabilities of CLEO and CLEO-c offer the opportunity to study in detail both bottomonium and charmonium systems with the same detector and software infrastructure and similar experimental conditions. The data samples collected by these experiments are among the world’s largest and continue to be a highly productive source for research in the area of heavy quark mesons and quarkonia.

Professor Pedlar has done extensive heavy quarkonium physics research in the course of his career, beginning with his doctoral work at Northwestern University, where he studied the electromagnetic decays of charmonia produced in proton-antiproton collisions at Fermilab, and continuing with bottomonium spectroscopy at CLEO.   

Since his arrival at Luther College in 2003, Pedlar has continued his active involvement with CLEO and has been able to help several Luther undergraduate students under his direction make significant contributions to the work of the collaboration.

Pedlar said the NSF grant will enable him and his students to make substantial contributions toward the refinement and extension of the understanding of heavy quarkonia and provide a rare opportunity for undergraduate physics students to become meaningfully involved in an important research effort. The students will be able to take an active role in every aspect of CLEO data analysis and take part in new research efforts the CLEO group pursues.

“The experience these students will gain from the proposed work and collaborating with colleagues from other institutions will be an invaluable part of their education. I’m particularly excited about the new opportunities at nearby Fermilab that this grant enables me to pursue.” Pedlar said.

The NSF funding also allows the Luther research group to explore new avenues for continuing their studies of heavy quarkonium physics and other studies in the physics of quarks and leptons. 

In addition to work done in conjunction with CLEO-c, Pedlar will also be able to provide Luther students with learning opportunities at other research facilities including Fermilab, the research center for high-energy physics in Batavia, Ill.  Among the topics Pedlar intends to pursue at Fermilab are new studies in heavy quarkonium spectroscopy and of the gravitational interaction between matter and antimatter.

This grant also continues Pedlar’s goal of broadening undergraduate student experiences in physics research to increase exposure to and understanding of science. His faculty-student mentoring has a long record of success in involving his students in the study of heavy quarkonium physics, and these undergraduate researchers have made significant contributions to several CLEO-c analyses and are co-authors on a number of publications.

Pedlar also plans to extend the reach of his research into the community by exposing groups of high school teachers and high school students to his work through his involvement with the Iowa Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers and through Luther’s Summer Science Symposium, which aims to give students of low socio-economic backgrounds meaningful experiences in science.