Falling in Love with Physics

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Ask Honors College student Joshua Leeman about physics and he’ll tell you it was a case of love at first sight. He initially discovered physics in a high school classroom in Moon Township, Pennsylvania and quickly became enthralled by the challenging field. While Leeman started out as a double major in engineering and physics, the senior is now majoring in physics and mathamatics, hoping to eventually pursue his doctorate in high energy physics theory. It is precisely this ambition which has driven and shaped much of Leeman’s Purdue experience. Now, with graduation in sight, Leeman’s resume includes experience on all three sides of academia: as student, teacher and researcher. Though the student experience is obvious, the other two deserve further explanation.

Joshua Leeman

To begin, after only one semester at Purdue, Leeman was hired as an undergraduate teaching assistant for one of the large, introductory courses in the physics department. He continued in this role for two semesters. However, in the fall of his sophomore year, Leeman made another great discovery. While listening to a speaker at a session he attended through the National and International Scholarships Office, Leeman says he realized the immense importance of research in the realm of physics. Inspired by this experience, he secured not one, but two research positions the following semester.

While he claims the two projects are “wildly different,” they each fall under the larger umbrella of “high energy physics.” And this is precisely the facet of physics which Leeman hopes to pursue after Purdue. In addition to broaching entirely different subjects, the type of research Leeman has contributed to in each lab differs. While his work with Professor Jung in the P3MD (Purdue Particle Physics Microstructure Development) Labs can be described as experimental research, his work with Professor Fischbach falls into the category of phenomenology research, which explores the boundary between theory and experiment. With Professor Jung, Leeman runs thermal experiments on silicon detectors, which are being created for implementation in the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator – The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland. In Professor Fischbach’s group, Leeman is currently analyzing an experiment done in the early 20th century to determine if it aligns with Fischbach’s theory regarding a “fifth force.” For those who are unfamiliar, there are only four universally accepted fundamental forces of physics. Therefore, this research is truly groundbreaking and stands to advance our entire understanding of physics itself. In addition to working consistently with both groups since his sophomore year at Purdue, Leeman has also stayed on campus each summer to continue pursuing his research projects.

Though there are many extraordinary options for Leeman after graudation, he has a rather unique opportunity he calls his “perfect fit.” You see, Leeman has been nominated by Purdue University as a Churchill Scholar. If selected for this program, he will apply to a one year master’s program in applied mathematics and theoretical physics at Cambridge University. Through this program, Leeman would have the choice of five out of a whopping 80 potential courses. With this ability to focus one’s individual curriculum so specifically, Leeman believes it would allow him to concentrate on high energy physics and explore each of the related subfields in greater depth. What’s more, if selected for the program, he will then have the option to defer graduate school for a year, resuming his Ph.D. upon returning from Cambridge. Leeman hopes to stay involved in research, specifically in academia. His enthusiasm and passion is truly palpable.