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Benjamin J. McCall

Professor of Chemistry; Associate Head of Major Projects of Chemistry
Professor of Astronomy
Department Affiliate of Physics
Professor; Assistant Director for Special Projects at iSEE of Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment

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Biography

Professor McCall received his B.S. degree in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1995 and a joint Ph.D. in Chemistry and Astronomy & Astrophysics from the University of Chicago in 2001. He was then a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at Berkeley. He joined the University of Illinois faculty in 2004.

Specializations

  • molecular spectroscopy
  • laboratory astrochemistry
  • instrument development
  • ball plasmoids and ball lightning
  • sustainability

Research Description

Our group's historical focus is in the area of molecular spectroscopy, especially in plasmas. We have been pioneering ultrasensitive and ultraprecise methods for recording high resolution infrared spectra of molecular ions in laboratory plasmas, and we have been exploiting these methods to study a variety of ions. We are particularly interested in the structure and intramolecular dynamics of non-classical carbocations (such as CH5+), and we have also been studying simpler ions such as H3+, HeH+, and OH+. In addition to the fundamental interest in these ions, they are also very important players in the chemistry of the interstellar medium, and in the context of "laboratory astrochemistry" we aim to provide new and improved laboratory measurements that will enable astronomical study of such ions. A second area of plasma spectroscopy involves the study of laboratory analogs of ball lightning, a rare and poorly understood atmospheric phenomenon.

In recent years, as the impacts of humanity's fossil fuel combustion on Earth's climate have become more clear, and more alarming, we have felt obliged to make some contribution to the area of sustainability. Our efforts to date have focused on improving the sustainability of our own campus, under the aegis of the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment. This has involved a combination of policy work and programs such as the Illinois Biodiesel Initiative. We are also initiating some applied research projects in this area, and are currently recruiting interested undergraduate and master's students.

Distinctions / Awards

  • Fellow, American Physical Society
  • Fellow, Optical Society of America
  • Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE)
  • David and Lucile Packard Fellowship
  • University Scholar
  • Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award
  • Helen Corley Petit Scholar, College of LAS
  • Dean's Teaching Fellowship, College of LAS
  • Sloan Research Fellowship, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • Coblentz Award for Molecular Spectroscopy
  • Cottrell Scholar Award, Research Corporation
  • Air Force Young Investigator Award
  • NSF CAREER Award
  • Miller Research Fellow
  • Fannie and John Hertz Predoctoral Fellow

Publications

Websites