Dr Ben Laws

Dr Ben Laws

Postdoctoral Fellow
  • PhD (ANU, 2018)
  • BSc.(Hons 1) (ANU, 2014)
  • BSc (Univ. of Canterbury, 2013)
School of Chemistry

I am a Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Chemistry, working with the Schmidt and Kable groups. I joined UNSW at the start of 2020, after spending 6 years at the ANU as both a Postdoc and PhD student in the Research School of Physics. My research involves studying radicals and ions in the gas phase, using laser spectroscopic techniques such as velocity map imaging (VMI) and resonantly enhanced multi-photon ionization (REMPI). These techniques provide a way to study reactive and transient radicals that are not accessible via standard methods, which play important roles in the atmosphere, in combustion, and in interstellar space. 

Lab 623 Science & Engineering Building, E8 UNSW, Kensington Campus
  • Journal articles | 2023
    Laws BA; Krechkivska O; Nauta K; Kable SH; Schmidt TW, 2023, 'Intramolecular hole-transfer in protonated anthracene', Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, 25, pp. 19524 - 19531, http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/d3cp02922k
    Journal articles | 2022
    Laws BA; Levey ZD; Sanov A; Stanton JF; Schmidt TW; Gibson ST, 2022, 'Velocity map imaging spectroscopy of C2H-and C2D-: A benchmark study of vibronic coupling interactions', Journal of Chemical Physics, 157, pp. 044305, http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/5.0100297
    Journal articles | 2022
    Levey ZD; Laws BA; Sundar SP; Nauta K; Kable SH; da Silva G; Stanton JF; Schmidt TW, 2022, 'PAH Growth in Flames and Space: Formation of the Phenalenyl Radical', Journal of Physical Chemistry A, 126, pp. 101 - 108, http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.jpca.1c08310
    Journal articles | 2021
    Laws BA; Levey ZD; Schmidt TW; Gibson ST, 2021, 'Velocity Map Imaging Spectroscopy of the Dipole-Bound State of CH2CN–: Implications for the Diffuse Interstellar Bands', Journal of the American Chemical Society, 143, pp. 18684 - 18692, http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jacs.1c08762
    Journal articles | 2019
    Laws BA; Cavanagh SJ; Lewis BR; Gibson ST, 2019, 'Wigner Near-Threshold Effects in the Photoelectron Angular Distribution of NO 2 -', Journal of Physical Chemistry A, 123, pp. 10418 - 10425, http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.jpca.9b09073
    Journal articles | 2019
    Laws BA; Gibson ST; Lewis BR; Field RW, 2019, 'The dicarbon bonding puzzle viewed with photoelectron imaging', Nature Communications, 10, http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-13039-y
    Journal articles | 2017
    DeVine JA; Weichman ML; Laws B; Chang J; Babin MC; Balerdi G; Xie C; Malbon CL; Lineberger WC; Yarkony DR; Field RW; Gibson ST; Ma J; Guo H; Neumark DM, 2017, 'Encoding of vinylidene isomerization in its anion photoelectron spectrum', SCIENCE, 358, pp. 336 - 339, http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aao1905
    Journal articles | 2017
    Laws BA; Cavanagh SJ; Lewis BR; Gibson ST, 2017, 'NOO Peroxy Isomer Exposed with Velocity-Map Imaging', Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, 8, pp. 4397 - 4401, http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acs.jpclett.7b02183

My current research interests may be divided into two streams:

i) Astrochemistry - investigating the molecules that make up the interstellar medium, by performing high precision gas-phase laboratory studies that may be compared to astronomical observations.
ii) Negative ions - understanding the structure, reactivity, and photophysical properties of negative ions, with focuses on isomerisation reactions, and ions of atmospheric importance.

Research Goals

  • Identify potential carriers of the Diffuse Interstellar Bands (DIBs)
    Over 500 absorption features have been observed in the spectra of astronomical objects, however to date only one molecule has been successfully assigned to one of these bands - C60. We believe open shell polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are promising candidates for DIB carriers. We can measure spectra from these radical species in the lab for comparison to known DIB lines, to try and identify what molecules are present in the ISM.
  • Understanding soot formation in combustion
    The formation and growth of PAHs is a vital part of incomplete combustion, in both terrestrial and interstellar environments. However the process by which these large aromatic molecules form remains a highly controversial topic. We can simulate combustion conditions inside our vacuum chamber by using a high voltage discharge, which allows us to investigate new mechanisms, that may explain how ring expansion may occur.
  • Investigating the 2175 Å Hump
    A large hump is often observed at 2175Å in UV extinction curves. Surprisingly, this hump is present across many different astronomical objects. Furthermore, while the FWHM of the feature may vary between different stars, the hump is always centered around 2175Å. This suggests one carrier must be responsible for the feature across all sight lines, even though the environmental conditions where the hump has been observed can vary significantly. Many different candidates are able to recreate a 2175Å feature in the lab: PAHs, carbon onions, graphite grains. However by comparing the strength of the relevant absorption features to the cosmic carbon budget, it may be possible to rule out some of the competing hypotheses and finally determine the carrier responsible.

Negative Ions

  • Investigate 1,2H-shift isomerisation reactions
    Hydrogen migration between adjacent carbons is widespread in the reaction mechanisms of organic chemistry. By studying the simplest prototype - the isomerisation between acetylene HCCH and vinylidene H2CC - we have shown it is possible to identify vibrational-mode specific pathways via which the Hydrogen may hop from one carbon to another.  There are a whole family of more complex carbenes which would be promising potential candidates to study how this Hydrogen hop may be impacted by its surrounds, providing the bridge to expand this study to larger, more complex reactions.
  • The study of atmospherically relevant anions
    Negative ions play many important roles in our atmosphere, yet compared to their neutral counterparts, our library of spectroscopic information on anions is relatively bare. We have shown that High Resolution Photoelectron Imaging is a versatile technique to study these important species. Furthermore, we have demonstrated that the additional information we obtain using our state of the art spectrometer has allowed us to make important new discoveries, even on 'simple, already well studied molecules' such as NO and O2.

My Research Supervision

  • Zachariah Levey, PhD student: Investigating growth mechanisms of polyatomic aromatic hydrocarbons, and searching for carriers of the diffuse interstellar bands.