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Benjamin J. McCall

Profile picture for Benjamin J.  McCall

Contact Information

University of Dayton
Adjunct Professor


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.

Research Interests

molecular spectroscopy
laboratory astrochemistry
instrument development
ball plasmoids and ball lightning

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.

Awards and Honors

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
Miller Research Fellow
Fannie and John Hertz Predoctoral Fellow

Additional Campus Affiliations

Adjunct Research Professor of Chemistry and of Astronomy - Chemistry