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Sat, 04.24.1937

William Lester, Chemist born

William Lester Jr.

*William Lester, Jr., was born on this date in 1937.  He is a Black theoretical chemist.  Born in Chicago, Illinois, his mother, Elizabeth Francis Lester, was born in Chicago and worked as a seamstress and a doctor's assistant.

His father, William Alexander Lester, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but moved to Chicago with his family when he was a child. He worked as a carrier for the United States Postal Service. Lester's maternal grandparents are Willie Belle and Oliver Alphonso Clark. Oliver Alphonso was a lawyer practicing law in Chicago for fifty years. Lester's paternal grandparents are Debora and [William Mason] Lester. Lester describes his relationship with his sisters: Florence, Judith Belle, and Karen.

Lester grew up in an all-black neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. He went to James McCosh Elementary School due to racial segregation in the city.   After World War II, Lester's family moved, and he attended a formerly all-white high school. Lester developed his interest in science at an early age; 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.  He received his B.S. degree in 1958 and his master’s degree in chemistry in 1959 from the University of Chicago.  

While at the University of Chicago on a history scholarship, Lester set scoring records in basketball. While at Catholic University, Lester worked at the National Bureau of Standards as a member of the scientific staff; his work at the Bureau helped him to meet the requirements for his doctoral dissertation on the calculation of molecular properties.  Lester obtained his Ph.D. in chemistry from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1964.  Lester obtained a postdoctoral appointment at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he worked on molecular collision theory.

The IBM Corporation hired Lester to work at its San Jose, California, research laboratory. Later, as the director of the National Resource for Computation in Chemistry, Lester organized and led the first unified effort in computational chemistry in the United States.  He later joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley as a professor of chemistry, where his research focused on the theoretical studies of the electronic structure of molecules. Lester's efforts at Berkeley extended the powerful quantum Monte Carlo method to a wider range of chemical problems.

Throughout his career, Lester published over 200 papers in his field and was awarded numerous honors for his research and teaching. Lester 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 APS, ACS, and AAAS. In addition to his professional activities, Lester remained committed to science education and sparked an interest in pursuing science careers in minority students.  In 2002, Lester became the president of the Pac-10 Conference. Lester and his wife, Rochelle (deceased), raised two children: son William A. Lester, III, and daughter Allison L. Ramsey. 

To become a Chemist and Materials Scientist.

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