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Dr. James Phillips, Ph.D. ("he/him/his")

Professional portrait of James Phillips
  • Professor
  • Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Public Health and Environmental Studies

Teaching Interests
  • General chemistry: CHEM 115
  • Physical chemistry: CHEM 433, CHEM 434, CHEM 438
  • Environmental chemistry: CHEM 127, CHEM 304
  • Independent study: CHEM 497/499
Research and Creative Activities

Structural and Energetic Properties of Molecular Complexes: The main interest of the Phillips group is to identify and characterize “molecular complexes”, which are associations of two otherwise stable molecules (or simply, “two molecules stuck together”). We are specifically interested in identifying those that undergo substantial changes in structure in response to a change in their chemical environment (gas phase vs. solution, vs. solid state). One example of this type of behavior is a "gas-solid structure difference"; when a complex has a different structure in its gaseous state than when it exists as bulk material as a solid. Some molecular complexes show extreme sensitivity to their environment, and undergo significant structural changes in solution, or even in solidified inert gases: neon, argon, and nitrogen. The main tools of our research are low-temperature (4-20 K) infrared spectroscopy, which allows us to detect structural changes in inert, bulk, solid samples, and computer models, which enable us to explore gas-phase structures and understand the underlying mechanistic features that lead to this behavior. To date, this research program has been supported by over $1.5 million in external grant funds, and has led to 25 peer-reviewed journal articles (with 58 UWEC student co-authors), and 75 off-campus student conference presentations.

Recent Grants: 15 external grants for a total of over $1.5M in funds for research, in addition to numerous internal grants awarded by UWEC’s Office or Research and Sponsored Programs.  

RUI: Condensed-Phase Effects on the Structural and Energetic Properties of Nitrogen Donor – SOx Complexes”; NSF-RUI-Chemistry, 9/1/22 to 8/30/25, ($313,276).

RUI: Continued Studies of Condensed-Phase Effects on the Structural Properties of Molecular Complexes”; NSF-RUI-Chemistry, NSF-RUI-Chemistry, 9/1/16 - 8/31/22, ($246,592, plus $22,055 in supplemental funds).

RUI: Continued Studies of Condensed-Phase Effects on the Structural Properties of Molecular Complexes”; NSF-RUI-Chemistry, 9/1/16 - 8/31/22, ($246,592, plus $22,055 in supplemental funds).

 “Continued Studies of the Structure, Bonding, and Energetic Properties Friedel-Crafts Intermediates: RF–BF3”; Petroleum Research Fund-Type UR, 1/1/13 - 8/31/17, ($65,000).

“RUI: Continued Studies of Condensed-Phase Structural Effects in Complexes of BCl3 and Group IV Lewis Acids”; NSF-RUI-Chemistry, 7/1/12 - 1/30/17, ($227,330).

  • Postdoctoral Work: University of Colorado (Physical and Atmospheric Chemistry)
    NOAA Postdoctoral Fellowship in Climate and Global Change
    Advisor: Dr. Veronica Vaida

  • Ph.D., University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (Physical Chemistry)
    Thesis Advisor: Dr. Kenneth Leopold

  • B.A., Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT (Chemistry, Music Composition)
    Thesis Advisor: Dr. Sunhee Choi
Published Research

Principle author of 25 peer-reviewed articles as PI since 1998 (35 in total), with 58 UWEC student co-author citations.

(* designates UWEC undergraduate co-authors)

  1. “Matrix Effects on Hydrogen Bonding and Proton Transfer in Fluoropyridine - HCl Complexes”;
    C. Soares,*, A. R. Ley,* C.B. Zehner,* P.W. Treacy,*, J.A. Phillips Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 2022, 24, 2371.
  1. “Structural and Energetic Properties of OC–BX3 Complexes: Unrealized Potential for Bond-Stretch Isomerism”;
    J.A. Munos*, D. T. Lowney*, J.A. Phillips, Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 2021, 23, 14678.
  1. “Structural and Energetic Properties of RMX3-NH3 Complexes”, J.A. Phillips, A.R. Ley*, P.W. Treacy*, B.M. Wahl*,
    B.C. Zehner*, K.J. Donald, and S. Gillespie, Int. J. Quantum Chem. 2020; e26383.
  1. “Modeling Reaction Energies and Exploring Noble Gas Chemistry in the Physical Chemistry Laboratory”, J.A. Phillips, in, “Using Computations to Teach Chemical Concepts”, ACS Monograph Series, ACS Publications, 2019.
  1. “On the Interactions of Nitriles and Fluoro-Substituted Pyridines with Silicon Tetrafluoride: Computations and Thin Film IR Spectroscopy”, N.J. Hora,* B.M. Wahl,* C. Soares,* S.A. Lara,* J.R. Lanska,* and J.A. Phillips,
    J. Molec. Struct. 2018, 1157, 679.
  1. “Structural and Energetic Properties of Haloacetonitrile–BCl3 Complexes: Computations and Matrix-IR Spectroscopy”;
    J.A. Phillips, S.J. Danforth,* N.J. Hora,* J.R. Lanska,* and A.W. Waller,* J. Phys. Chem. A 2017, 121, 9252–9261.
  1. “Structural and Energetic Properties of Nitrile – BX3 Complexes: Substituent Effects and their Impact on Condensed-Phase Sensitivity”; J.A. Phillips, Theor. Chem Accts. (Feature Article) 2017, 136(1):16.
  1. “Structural and Energetic Properties of Haloacetonitrile – GeF4 Complexes”; A.W. Waller,* N.M. Weiss,* D.A. Decato, and J.A. Phillips, J Mol. Struct. 2017,1130, 984.
Honors and Recognitions

2020                    ChemCUR Outstanding Mentorship Award, CUR Chemistry Council

2019, 2013, 1999 Voted “Professor of the Year” by UWEC Chemistry Students

2015                    Excellence in Mentoring Research, Scholarship, or Creative Activity Award, UWEC

2013                    Career Teaching Excellence Award, UWEC College of Arts & Sciences

2004 - 2009         Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar, Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation    

2004                    Technology for Innovation in Education (TIE) Fellowship, UWEC - TLTDC

2003                    Outstanding Student Organization Advisor Award Nominee, UWEC

2001                    Inducted as Honorary Member of Golden Key Honor Society

1996 - 1998         NOAA Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellowship

1995                    Overend Award, Chemistry Department, University of Minnesota

1995                    Rao Prize, The Ohio State International Symposium on Molecular Spectroscopy

1991 - 1992         Graduate Fellowship, Chemistry Department, University of Minnesota

1991                    Outstanding Senior Chemistry Major Certificate, American Institute of Chemists

1991                    Highest Honors thesis designation, Department of Chemistry, Middlebury College

Professional Memberships

M.E.R.C.U.R.Y. Consortium member (2012 - present); Executive Board (2020 - present)

Council on Undergraduate Research (2010 - present)

American Chemical Society (1995 - present)

Member of ACS Physical Chemistry (PH21) Examination Committee (2017 - 2021).