Luther Physics Professor Todd Pedlar receives $150,000 NSF research grant

Grant supports research in elementary particle physics to understand building blocks of the universe


Todd Pedlar, Ph.D., Luther College associate professor of physics, has received a $150,000, grant renewal from the National Science Foundation for his research in elementary particle physics.

This is Pedlar's fourth consecutive three-year grant from the Elementary Particle Physics subdivision of the Mathematics and Physical Sciences division of the NSF, and will support his work and the work of his research students at Luther.

 "Elementary particle physics is a field of fundamental physics studies. We are looking at the properties of the smallest building blocks of matter," Pedlar said. "Our studies are aimed at understanding just what the universe is made of, and often lead us to discoveries of elegant symmetries in nature that are not apparent to the naked eye, but which make the fundamental structure of normal every-day matter understandable.

"Understanding the fundamentals of nature is the first step before we can even think about applications that might be useful in everyday life. One of the side benefits—but a very helpful one—is that technology we develop for studying elementary particle physics often makes its way into the hands of you and me. Significant advances in medical technology and the electronics and computing industries have been greatly fueled by the advances necessary to study what we do as particle physicists."

Pedlar's grant will fund research in the study of heavy quarkonium under the NSF's Research at Undergraduate Institutions program. Heavy quarkonium is a system composed of quarks bound together by the strong nuclear interaction, one of four fundamental forces that bind matter together. The funding enables continued research at Luther as part of ongoing work on experiments of the Belle Collaboration, which consists of more than 600 physicists from around the world working together on large particle physics experiments—Belle and Belle II—based at KEK, the national high energy physics laboratory in Japan.

Pedlar, who heads one of 12 U.S. college and university groups contributing to the Belle/Belle II effort, will be assisted by his undergraduate students at Luther in analyzing data from the first Belle experiment, which ran from 1999-2010, and preparing simulations and writing software necessary for upcoming experimental runs for Belle II, which will begin data-taking in 2017. Pedlar joined this collaboration in 2010, after having worked for 10 years with the CLEO Collaboration, whose work was based at an accelerator at Cornell University.

Pedlar said the NSF grant enables him and his students an extensive research experience, and allows them to make substantial contributions toward the refinement and extension of the understanding of the strong interaction. The funding also provides a rare opportunity for undergraduate physics students to become meaningfully involved in every aspect of data analysis and contribute to the important work of preparing and operating Belle II hardware and software systems.

The NSF funding also allows the Luther research group to offer greater exposure to scientific research among students and teachers in rural Northeast Iowa. Pedlar's plans include outreach programming that combines visits of the research group to local middle and high schools, and visits by local students and teachers to Luther to participate in workshops. Area students and teachers will learn about the group's research and take part in activities that give them experience analyzing and interpreting data from the group's analysis efforts.

"We're ready for the opportunity to effectively communicate the excitement and experience of scientific research, and enrich the education of local students and educators alike," Pedlar said.

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

Since his arrival at Luther College in 2003, Pedlar has guided several Luther undergraduate students under his direction in making significant contributions in collaborative work. Three of Pedlar's last five research students have gone on to Ph.D. programs in physics. Another received a master's in statistics from the University of Minnesota and another plans to transition from his Luther physics degree to attend medical school.

Pedlar's course topics include Classical Physics I, Quantum Mechanics, Nuclear and Particle Physics, Thermal Physics, and Paideia: Enduring Questions.

For more details on the Belle collaborations and the results of recent work done by Pedlar and colleagues see; on Todd Pedlar see; and on Pedlar's research group at Luther see