The College of Chemistry announces new lectureship in honor of William Lester

November 10, 2020

William Lester, BerkeleyImage: Professor William Lester in his office at the College in the 1980s. Photo: College of Chemistry.

The College of Chemistry is pleased to announce that a new lectureship has been established and named for Professor of the Graduate School William Lester. The lectureship is intended to welcome distinguished underrepresented minority (URM) scholars to present their research and engage in discourse about their experiences and challenges of becoming scientists. Professor Lester said of the lectureship, “The thrust of this lecture is that it will add to the positive direction in diversity programming underway in various sectors nationally.”

Douglas Clark, Dean of the College stated, “Bill Lester is a great scientist and wonderful colleague who has made important contributions to the College and our profession on many levels, including his tireless efforts to promote diversity within chemical education and professional practice. He is an exemplary role model, and I cannot imagine a better way to recognize his legacy.”

The College serves a large population of undergraduate and graduate students and is an international leader in research. An overall educational goal for the College is to increase the number of URM and women students in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields while improving the scientific and cultural knowledge of both STEM students and students who do not ultimately choose to major in a STEM area.

The College has taken steps to develop a strategic plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion and for promoting these ideals among the faculty, staff, and students via educational programs, mentorships, and a focus on the graduate student experience. This lectureship is intended as both a research presentation and a cultural dialog about the scientific experience of URM scholars in America.

About Professor William Lester

Professor William Lester is a distinguished theoretical chemist and UC Berkeley professor. He grew up in Chicago, Illinois, where he attended all-Black elementary schools due to racial segregation. After World War II, Prof. Lester's family moved to a new neighborhood where he attended a formerly all-white high school. He went on to receive his B.S. degree in 1958, and M.S. in chemistry in 1959 from the University of Chicago. He obtained his Ph.D. in chemistry from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1964.

Prof. Lester developed his interest in science early on. During his senior year in high school, he used his typing skills to obtain a part-time job in the physics department of the University of Chicago, which gave him a chance to explore the potential of a future career in the sciences.  Entering the University of Chicago on a history scholarship, his exceptional athletic ability allowed him to set scoring records in basketball, two of which were still standing forty-eight years later.

While he was at Catholic University, Prof. Lester worked at the National Bureau of Standards as a member of the scientific staff. His work at the Bureau aided his research leading to a doctoral dissertation on the calculation of molecular properties. 

William Lester

William Lester at IBM (courtesy WIlliam Lester)

Prof. Lester obtained a postdoctoral appointment at the University of Wisconsin in Madison where he worked on the molecular collision theory. He went on to the IBM Corporation, where he worked at its research laboratory in San Jose, California. Later, as the director of the National Resource for Computation in Chemistry, he organized and led the first unified effort in computational chemistry in the United States.

Prof. Lester joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley as a professor of chemistry in 1981. His research focused on theoretical studies of the electronic structure of molecules. His research efforts at Berkeley extended the powerful quantum Monte Carlo method into a wider range of chemical problems.

William Lester

During his career, Prof. Lester has published over 200 papers in his field, and has been awarded numerous honors for his research and teaching. He has held memberships in several professional organizations, including the American Physical and Chemical Societies and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was also elected a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In addition to his professional activities, he has remained committed to science education and sparking an interest in pursuing science careers in minority students.

Prof. Lester has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Physical Chemistry, International Journal of Quantum Chemistry, Journal of Computational Chemistry, Computer Physics Communications, and the Journal of Chemical Physics.

The first lecture will be presented in the Spring of 2021.

Further information about Prof. Lester: