Benjamin McCall elected APS Fellow

Siv Schwink

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

  • Events

A symposium honoring the late Center for Advanced Study Professor Emeritus of Physics and of Electrical and Computer Engineering David Pines is taking place on March 29 and 30 at the Institute for Condensed Matter Theory (ICMT) of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At the David Pines Symposium on Superconductivity Today and Tomorrow, 20 invited speakers will cover today’s most pressing problems and most promising directions in superconductivity. Some of the talks will also address other research topics that were of special interest to Pines, including Fermi liquids and topics in nuclear physics and astrophysics.

  • In the Media

Lose the jargon. Be willing to give away your best ideas. Quality is everything.

These are tips from a trio of physicists on writing a great article for Reviews of Modern Physics—the world-renowned journal of topical reviews that turns 90 in July. At a celebration for RMP at the APS March Meeting in Boston, the researchers offered advice to future Reviews authors and reminisced about the publication’s influence on their careers.

  • Accolades

Thirty-eight research groups at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have been allocated new computation time on the Blue Waters supercomputer at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). This round of allocations provides over 17 million node-hours, equivalent to over half a billion core hours, and is valued at over $10.5 million, helping Illinois researchers push the boundaries of innovation and frontier science discovery.

  • In the Media
  • Outreach

Together with a team of five other physicists (the other interns in the lab), before entering the room I was handled information sheets covering some essential physics concepts laid out in a very digestible way. Indeed, the room, which is the brainchild of Paul Kwiat, a physics professor at the University of Illinois, is by all means not designed for physicists (even though it’s an absolute delight for them). It was created to provide an experience that demonstrates to the general public that physics is useful, permeates everyday objects and is, yes, fun.