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U. of I. chemistry professor wins Packard Fellowship

Jeff Unger, News Bureau 217-333-1085


Benjamin McCall
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Chemist Benjamin McCall is among 20 researchers named a 2006 Packard Fellow.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Benjamin McCall, a professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is among 20 U.S. researchers named 2006 Packard Fellows for science and engineering by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. He will receive $625,000 during the next five years to enhance his research efforts.

McCall, who joined the U. of I. faculty in 2004, has built a research program in astrochemistry, using the tools of gas phase molecular spectroscopy to address both fundamental chemical problems and longstanding problems in molecular astrophysics.

In recognizing McCall’s work, the foundation cited his use of ion optics to pull carbocations from a supersonically expanding plasma into a fast ion beam, which is probed by ultrasensitive direct absorption spectroscopy.

“McCall is one of the most spectacular young physical chemists in the United States,” said Steve Zimmerman, the head of the U. of I. chemistry department. “His research has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the spectra of ions in the gas phase and of the chemistry of interstellar clouds.

“He has embarked on an ambitious program to perform novel and challenging experiments that will give unprecedented insights into the high-resolution spectra of a series of key molecular ions in interstellar clouds. The results of his experiments are certain to have a profound impact on many areas of chemistry, such as carbocation intermediates, as well as on the field of astrophysics, since many of these species are expected to be present in the interstellar medium.”

McCall joins previous U. of I. Packard Fellowship winners in chemistry, including Martin Gruebele, Neil Kelleher, Nancy Makri, Todd Martinez, Scott Silverman and Jonathan Sweedler.

McCall earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1995 and a joint doctorate in chemistry and astronomy and astrophysics from the University of Chicago in 2001. He then held a prestigious Miller Fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley.

In July, he was named a recipient of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. McCall’s other honors include a National Science Foundation Career Award and a Camille and Henry Dreyfus New Faculty Award.

The fellowship program was established in 1988 and arose out of David Packard’s commitment to strengthening university-based science and engineering programs. By supporting unusually creative researchers early in their careers, the foundation hopes to develop scientific leaders, further the work of promising young scientists and engineers, and support efforts to attract talented graduate students into university research in the United States.

The 2006 Fellows were nominated by presidents of 50 universities that participate in the fellowship program. The 100 nominations were reviewed by the Fellowship Advisory Panel, a group of nationally recognized scientists, which then recommended 20 Fellows for approval by the Packard Foundation Board of Trustees.