Luther College student researches the forces of particle physics

August 11, 2017

Quarks are among the smallest things that science has discovered, shown experimentally to be about a million billion times smaller than a grain of sand. Joshua Jackson, Luther College senior of East Dubuque, Illinois, is researching the physics of quarks and the forces which bind them together into composite objects for his summer research project at the college.

Jackson, the son of Darlene and Mark Jackson of East Dubuque, is a 2014 graduate of Wahlert High School. He is majoring in physics, computer science and mathematics at Luther.

“My research at Luther has affected my learning experience in that I get a chance to use the knowledge I’ve gained across all of my majors in order to learn more about these systems. It really seems to validate and reinforce what I’ve learned because I get a chance to see what particle physics is really like,” said Jackson.

Jackson has spent the past two summers working with Todd Pedlar, Luther associate professor of physics, on his project “Charm Meson Production in Bottomonium Decays,” and this work will culminate for him in an Honors Senior Research Project in 2017-18.

Jackson and Pedlar are working with data from the Belle Collaboration (an international group of 400 physicists, of which Pedlar is a member) which operates an experiment in Japan, where he and two other students working with Pedlar travelled in June 2016. His studies involve the experimental data as well as Monte Carlo simulations of the experiment to attempt to investigate the forces that bind elementary particles together. The data they are studying was collected by the Belle detector, which records the result of collisions between electrons and positrons (antiparticles of the electron) in the KEK-B electron-positron collider.

KEK-B accelerates beams of electrons and positrons in opposite directions, then directs them towards each other to a point where the beams collide and annihilate, producing the particle systems that are the subject of Jackson’s project. The goal of his project is to determine the rate of production of charm mesons (elementary particle bound states composed of a charm quark and light antiquark) in decays of a system known as bottomonium – the bound state of bottom quark and bottom antiquark. By studying the particles produced in these collisions, they are able to better understand forces that hold particles together and correspondingly how the universe works.

This project is being pursued as part of Pedlar’s ongoing research activities at Luther that are funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, which has funded the work he has done in elementary particle physics with his students since 2006. Jackson’s project is an example of Student-Faculty Summer Research projects at Luther which provide students an opportunity to research topics of interest alongside Luther faculty. This program is one of a wide selection of experiential learning opportunities at Luther intended to deepen the learning process and that are part of Luther’s academic core.

The results of the project will be presented at Luther’s Student Research Symposium in 2018.

A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,150, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the Bachelor of Arts degree in more than 60 majors and pre-professional programs. For more information about Luther visit the college’s website: