• Todd Pedlar, Associate Professor of Physics

    "I want to engage students in the discussion of broader ideas outside of science."

Todd Pedlar

Helping Students Become Sound Thinkers

After completing his PhD, Pedlar had a strong desire to find a job at a liberal arts college. As a liberal arts college graduate himself, he wanted to work at an institution where he could truly impact students’ lives and assist them in their process of maturation as students of physics, as thinkers in general, and, more importantly and broadly, as human beings.

“I also hoped to teach a first-year common course like I took during my freshman year. I want to engage students in the discussion of broader ideas outside of science, and I get to do that with Luther’s Paideia program,” he says. “Because of my commitment to the ideals of the liberal arts, I feel fortunate that I’ve found a home here at Luther.”

Brings Research Experience to Luther

After completing his PhD at Northwestern University, Pedlar spent four years as a postdoctoral research associate with Ohio State University and subsequently with Cornell University. During that time, he took various leadership roles within the CLEO collaboration, an experimental collaboration devoted to studying the physics of heavy quarks (quarks are fundamental constituents of matter that cannot be further broken down). His current research is with Belle, a similar particle physics experiment in Japan.

“My time as a postdoc was important in helping me develop as an independent researcher,” he says. “So when I arrived at Luther, I was prepared to seek and obtain my own research funding to continue my work in particle physics with students here.”  Since 2005, Pedlar has guided two or three students each year in their own work with Belle and CLEOand most of them have gone on to graduate study in physics and engineering fields.

His Research Topic Is Simple Yet Complex

Pedlar’s study of elementary particle physics focuses on the most fundamental building blocks of matter. His work centers on simple systems (or quarks) of these building blocks. This offers rich insight into the nature of the strong nuclear interaction that, like a glue, binds them together to make up protons, neutrons, and ultimately everything that’s seen in the universe.  

The main reason why Pedlar is drawn to this field is the simultaneous simplicity and complexity that is found when matter is studied at this level. “The quark systems I study reveal laws that govern the structures: laws characterized by deep symmetries and, dare I say, beauty,” he says. “Connected to these tiny structures are indicators of how the universe itself is composed on a very large scale. This is something my students can grasp intellectually, participate in in a significant way, and find as deeply satisfying as I do. In this sense my field really offers a great match to the liberal arts environment at Luther where we seek to develop students’ skills in thinking broadly and deeply about life, the universe, and everything.”

I like to help students develop their curiosity about the world—the physical world, the world of literature and philosophy, or, more broadly, the world of ideas. The most rewarding interactions I have are with students making these connections when they’re thinking about what they’ve read in Paideia or other classes in the humanities, and how those truths they’ve found impact their thinking about other topics.

—Todd Pedlar

Professional and Academic Societies

  • American Physical Society
  • American Association of Physics Teachers
  • Phi Beta Kappa (served 2006-2012 as Luther’s chapter president)

I’ve recently become an avid player of Go, which is an ancient board game that has origins in China. It's played on a board with a grid of spaces, using black and white stones. Go is a simple game in terms of its rules but involves many layers of strategy.

—Todd Pedlar