Get to Know ESL Interim Director Chris Ball

Posted: September 26, 2022
chris ball inside ESL

At the beginning of September, Chris Ball stepped into a new position as interim director of The Ohio State University’s ElectroScience Laboratory (ESL).

Ball joined ESL in 2016 as a research scientist. As a researcher, he specializes in the development of sensor technologies operating across the electromagnetic spectrum, from ultraviolet to radiofrequency. In this new role, he has goals of continuing to make the lab an exceptional hub for radio frequency and optics research and a great place to come to work. He recently shared more about his background and what he is looking forward to as interim director at ESL.

ESL: What excites you most as you begin your term as interim director?

The start of a new academic year is always an exciting time. We have new students, new researchers and, of course, it’s the start of football season! Mostly, I’m excited that life at ESL is starting to return to some state of normalcy following the pandemic.

ESL: What made you want to be ESL’s interim director?

Partly, I felt a sense of obligation. ESL needed someone to step up and help for the next year. The lab has been so great to me, both in terms of my career and personally, and I felt it was the right thing to do. I really love working here and the people are great. I felt I had the experience and capability to do the job, so it made sense to step forward.

I also wanted to try something new, to see if a management role would be something I might want to consider for the future. I love doing research and learning new things every day, but I think I can find a balance where I can manage the lab and continue my research activities.

ESL: What do you see as the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity in the next year?

I think the greatest challenge and greatest opportunity are the same. We want to continue to make ESL a world-class research institution, which means making sure we have top-notch facilities, equipment and, most importantly, people. The director has a hand in making sure we use our available budget wisely and strategically so we have the tools we need to succeed in our research, while also guaranteeing we have enough reserve to cover unexpected problems that may arise. In addition, the director and the ESL staff are instrumental in recruiting and serving our amazing graduate students as well as our undergraduate workers. I want to make sure we grow ESL’s reputation as a great place for students to do research, so that we can keep finding the best students to help answer our most challenging research questions.

ESL: Tell us a bit about your prior research history.

I got my bachelor’s degree at Harvard University, where I initially started my research work with Harvard’s High Energy Physics Lab. While I loved working there, I learned quickly that I wasn’t really interested in particle physics, so I transitioned to molecular physics and microwave spectroscopy as a graduate student at Ohio State. My PhD work studied low energy molecular collisions using time-resolved spectroscopy techniques. I then went back to Harvard, to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where I served as a postdoc. My work there focused on laser spectroscopy of exotic carbon chains and rings that were known to be found in star forming regions in interstellar clouds. After two years and the birth of my first child, I came back to Columbus to work at Battelle Memorial Institute. There, I worked on a wide variety of research projects primarily related to sensor technologies, including sensors to detect chemical and biological weapons, identify homemade explosive threats, track environmental pollution, characterize industrial processes and many other applications.

ESL: What brought you to Ohio State?

I came to Ohio State after 15 years at Battelle, mainly because I was getting farther and farther away from doing hands-on research. I was fortunate that ESL was willing to take me on as a staff researcher, and I was instantly able to do much more work in the lab as well as collaborate with many great people. Since I’ve been at Ohio State, I’ve helped develop a CubeSat that was launched and flew in orbit for a couple years and worked on laser sensor technology to detect natural gas leaks. I’ve developed submillimeter wave spectroscopy systems to detect hazardous air pollutants, collaborated to develop an infrared sensor to characterize food and agricultural products, and am currently helping to develop X-ray communications technology for next-gen space communications.

ESL: Is there an accomplishment or project you’re most proud of?

Honestly, I’m most proud of my kids. Nothing I’ve done in my career compares to the pride I feel for being the father of three amazing and accomplished people.

ESL: Do you have a favorite mentor?

My PhD advisor, Professor Frank De Lucia from Ohio State’s Department of Physics, is my favorite mentor. Frank was an excellent advisor. He was a top researcher in the field of microwave and millimeter wave spectroscopy, so his labs were well-funded and stocked with excellent students and postdocs. He empowered his students to work independently but was available to help if we needed it. One great lesson I took from him was to entertain every idea, even if it’s crazy. He’d often say, “this might be a dumb idea, and I’ve only thought about it a few minutes, but what if we…” It great to see as a student that it was alright to have crazy ideas and to try them out. It was okay to fail sometimes.

ESL: What about favorite hobbies or interests outside of work?

Mainly I like to cook, listen to music, read, and watch sports (especially the Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium). I also love puzzles and games.


Category: Administration