Benjamin McCall elected APS Fellow

Siv Schwink
11/14/2012

Associate Professor Benjamin McCall has been elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society “for integrative studies of the simplest polyatomic molecule (H3+), including its dissociative recombination, proton-swapping reaction with H2, and astronomical observations and modeling; and for the development of high-sensitivity, high-precision methods for molecular ion spectroscopy."

McCall has built an exciting research program in the emerging field of astrochemistry. His team’s work probes the network of chemical reactions responsible for the formation of most molecules in the universe and so has profound implications for our understanding of the origins of the universe and life.
 
McCall’s research group has developed new highly sensitive techniques in high-resolution laser spectroscopy to study astronomically important molecular ions in the gas phase. This laboratory work generates spectroscopic “fingerprints” of the highly reactive (and therefore short-lived) ions at low temperatures.
 
McCall and his team are then able to use powerful ground-based and space-based telescopes to search for these spectra to determine the concentration of these molecular ions in the interstellar medium and in interstellar clouds, where low densities and ultracold temperatures slow the unfolding of chemical reactions. Finally, McCall and his team interpret the concentrations using models based on chemical kinetics to characterize the chemical and physical conditions in the interstellar clouds.
 
The McCall research group’s studies of the chemical reaction of H3+ with H2 (which interchanges identical protons subject to the conservation of nuclear spin angular momentum) and the recombination of H3+ with electrons (a key process in interstellar chemistry) has shed new light on the composition of interstellar environments.
 
Department Head and Professor of Physics Dale Van Harlingen said, “Ben is an exceptional scholar whose pioneering work is truly interdisciplinary—at the intersection of chemistry, astronomy, and physics. We are happy to have him as an affiliate in the Department of Physics—the research by his group in observational molecular astronomy, the chemistry of fundamental reactive ion species, and laboratory detection of molecules of astronomical importance couples well to our growing interest in the emerging fields of astrobiology and astrochemistry."
 
McCall earned a bachelor of science 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 then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at Berkeley before joining the University of Illinois faculty as an assistant professor in 2004. He holds appointments in the Departments of Chemistry, Astronomy, and Physics.
 
McCall is the recipient of many honors. Among these, he was named University Scholar (2011), received the Sloan Research Fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (2009), the Coblentz Award from the Coblentz Society (2009), the Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation (2007), the David and Lucile Packard Fellowship (2006), the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2005), and a National Science Foundation CAREER award (2005).
 
Election to fellowship in the American Physical Society is limited to no more than one-half of one percent of the Society's membership and is conferred following a rigorous, peer-reviewed selection process.  Fellows are recognized internationally for their outstanding contributions to physics.
 
See McCall’s extensive list of publications here.

 

Recent News

  • Partnerships

The Chicago Quantum Exchange, a growing intellectual hub for the research and development of quantum technology, has expanded its community to include new industry partners working at the forefront of quantum technology and research. These corporate partners are Boeing, Applied Materials, Inc., ColdQuanta, Inc., HRL Laboratories LLC and Quantum Opus LLC.

Together, the Chicago Quantum Exchange and its new industry partners will focus on developing a new understanding of the rules of quantum mechanics, leading to breakthroughs in quantum devices, materials and computing techniques.

Based at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, the Chicago Quantum Exchange is anchored by the University of Chicago, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (both operated for DOE by the University of Chicago), and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and includes the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Northwestern University.

  • In the Media
  • Alumni News

Oscar Rodrigo Araiza Bravo, a 2014 MHS graduate, recently was granted a full scholarship to Harvard University to earn a PhD in physics. He graduated with a straight A average from the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign with degrees in mathematics and engineering physics.

After completing doctoral studies he hopes to become a college professor who does both teaching and research. “I enjoy teaching. If you ever want to find out whether or not you know a subject, teach it,” Araiza Bravo said.

  • In the Media

There have been accusations for years that the Major League ball is “juiced,” thus accounting for the increasing power numbers.

MLB officials have categorically denied that, and last year, commissioned a study of the baseball and how it’s produced.

In the landmark 85-page independent report replete with color graphs, algorithms and hypotheses, a group of 10 highly-rated professors and scientists chaired by Alan Nathan determined that the ball is not livelier or “juiced.” Nathan is a professor emeritus of physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

The surge in home runs “seems, instead, to have arisen from a decrease in the ball’s drag properties, which cause it to carry further than previously, given the same set of initial conditions – exit velocity, launch and spray angle, and spin. So, there is indirect evidence that the ball has changed, but we don’t yet know how,” wrote Leonard Mlodinow, in the report’s eight-page executive summary.