William Alexander Lester Jr., Ph.D., Recognized for Excellence in Chemistry

A Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, since 1981, Dr. Lester retired in 2010. He is presently Professor Emeritus in the Department of Chemistry and Professor of the Graduate School. He came to Berkeley in 1978 as Director of the newly created National Resource for Computation in Chemistry and concurrently an Associate Director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). In 1981, with his faculty appointment, he also became an LBNL Faculty Senior Scientist. He also served as Associate Dean of the College of Chemistry from 1991 to 1995. During his tenure with the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Lester was appointed Senior Fellow for Science and Engineering and Assistant to the Director for Human Resource Development at the National Science Foundation.

Earlier in his career, Dr. Lester spent a decade with the IBM Corporation, serving as research staff in the research laboratory in San Jose, California, from 1968 to 1975 and again from 1976 to 1978, as well as technical planning staff at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, from 1975 to 1976. He has also contributed his skills to the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a lecturer in the department of chemistry and assistant director and research associate with the Theoretical Chemistry Institute from 1964 to 1968. Dr. Lester began his career as a physical chemist with the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., from 1961 to 1964.

Serving on a number of boards, panels and committees for such organizations as the National Science Foundation and the United States Department of Energy, Dr. Lester has also contributed much to the Gordon Research Conferences on the council, the Selection and Scheduling Committee and the Board of Trustees. Furthermore, he was the Chair of the Gordon Research Conference on Atomic and Molecular Interactions in 1978. Having authored more than 200 articles for professional journals, he has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Atomic and Molecular Sciences,  Journal of Chemical Physics, Journal of Computational Chemistry, International Journal of Quantum Chemistry, Computer Physics Communications and Journal of Physical Chemistry. Dr. Lester co-authored Monte Carlo Methods in Ab Initio Quantum Chemistry and edited or co-edited volumes in the series, Recent Advances in Quantum Monte Carlo Methods.

Accomplishing much over the course of his career, Dr. Lester was notably the Black History month speaker for the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2017 and an invited speaker with the Staff Training in Extramural Programs committed forum “Minority Programs Under Fire: Recent Court Decision” in 1997. He has also served as co-chair of the ScienceMaker advisory committee of The HistoryMakers, the national African American video oral history archive. Recognized for his contributions to his field since his college days, he was presented with an Incite Award for his proposal entitled “Energetic Aspects of CO2 Absorption by Ionic Liquids from Quantum Monte Carlo” in 2011. Receiving the Stanley C. Israel Regional Award for advancing diversity in the chemical sciences in 2008, he was honored with the Symposium in Honor of William A. Lester, Jr. by the University of California, Berkeley, in 2007. Dr. Lester has also been the recipient of such accolades as the Chancellor’s Award for advancing institutional excellence in 2006 and an Outstanding Service Award from the National Science Foundation in 1996, among many others.

Prior to embarking on his career, Dr. Lester pursued education at the University of Chicago, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in 1958 and a Master of Science in 1959. Completing postgraduate coursework at Washington University in St. Louis from 1959 to 1960, he obtained a Doctor of Philosophy from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1964. An elected Fellow of the African Scientific Institute, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Physical Society, and the California Academy of Sciences, Dr. Lester was also selected for membership in the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science and maintained membership in NOBCChE (the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers.

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