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William A. Lester, Jr. Papers

 Collection
Identifier: 2023-017

Scope and Content

The William A. Lester, Jr. Papers contain the professional and personal papers of African American theoretical chemist and chemistry educator William A. Lester, Jr. The collection is arranged into the following thirteen series:

  1. University of Wisconsin-Madison Files
  2. IBM Files
  3. Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory Files
  4. University of California, Berkeley Files
  5. NOBCChE Files
  6. Jackson State University Files
  7. Personal Files
  8. Publication and Presentation Files
  9. Appointment Books and Notebooks
  10. Miscellaneous Printed Materials
  11. Electronic Storage Materials
  12. Audio-Visual Materials
  13. Images

Dates

  • Creation: 1950-2017
  • Creation: Majority of material found within Bulk 1965-2013

Creator

Language of Materials

A majority of the materials in this collection are in English. Also includes small amounts of materials in German, French, Swedish, Russian, and Chinese.

Access Restrictions

The William A. Lester, Jr. Papers are open to researchers with the exception of the following files:

Box 5 Folder 1 is closed to researchers until further notice.

Box 41 Folder 6 is closed to researchers until further notice.

Copyright Information

The Science History Institute holds copyright to the William A. Lester, Jr. Papers. The researcher assumes full responsibility for all copyright, property, and libel laws as they apply.

Background Note

William A. Lester, Jr. (1937-) is an African American theoretical chemist and chemistry educator. He is noted for his theoretical studies of the electronic structure of molecules through Quantum Monte Carlo methods. He is also a noted advocate for underrepresented minorities in the sciences and higher education.

William A. Lester, Jr. was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 24, 1937. He became interested in science at an early age. Lester earned his B.S. degree in Chemistry (1958) and his M.S. degree in Chemistry (1959) from the University of Chicago. After earning his M.S. degree, he briefly continued his graduate studies at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri (1959-1960), then moved to Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, where he earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry (1964). While attending Catholic University, he worked at the National Bureau of Standards (1961-1964), where he conducted research in quantum theory.

After receiving his Ph.D., Lester joined the staff of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Theoretical Chemistry Institute, where he served as Postdoctoral Associate (1964-1965) and Assistant Director (1965-1968). At the Theoretical Chemistry Institute, he conducted research on molecular collision theory and molecular quantum mechanics and scattering. While working at this institute, he also served as Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Chemistry (1966-1968), where he taught undergraduate physical chemistry and graduate courses in theoretical chemistry.

Lester entered the private sector in 1968 when he joined the staff of the IBM Research Laboratory in San Jose, California. Serving as a member of the laboratory’s professional staff (1968-1975), he conducted research in quantum chemistry and molecular collisions. In 1975, he moved to IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, where he served on the Technical Planning Staff of the Director of Research (1975-1976). In this management position, he kept the Director informed of developments in science at IBM’s research laboratories in Yorktown Heights, San Jose, and Zürich, Switzerland. Lester returned to the IBM Research Laboratory in San Jose in 1976, serving as Manager of the Molecular Interactions Group (1976-1978). In this capacity, he oversaw research in experimental and theoretical studies in chemical physics and conducted personal research on molecular collisions.

In 1978, Lester joined the staff of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, California. From 1978 to 1981, he served as Director of the National Resource for Computation in Chemistry (NRCC), which was the first unified effort in computational chemistry in the United States. In this capacity, Lester worked to make information on new computational methodologies available to chemists. He also oversaw the development of new computational algorithms and associated software and conducted research in chemistry that utilized computational methods. While serving as Director of the NRCC, Lester was introduced by American theoretical physicist David Ceperley to Quantum Monte Carlo, a family of computational methods used to study complex quantum systems. Quantum Monte Carlo later became Lester’s main tool for his chemical research.

During his tenure as Director of the NRCC, Lester concurrently served as Associate Director and Senior Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. The NRCC was formally terminated in 1981. After the NRCC’s termination, Lester stayed on at Lawerence Berkeley, serving as Faculty Senior Scientist at the laboratory’s Chemical Sciences Division (1981-Present).

In 1981, Lester was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Chemistry (1981-Present). At Cal Berkeley, he taught undergraduate and graduate level chemistry courses. Working concurrently at both Cal Berkeley and Lawerence Berkeley Laboratory, Lester’s research focused on the theoretical studies of the electronic structure of molecules. Through his research, he extended the use of Quantum Monte Carlo methods to a wider range of chemical problems. In addition to his research and teaching, Lester served as the Department of Chemistry’s Vice-Chair for Instruction (1991-1995) and as the College of Chemistry’s Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs (1997-1999).

In addition to his research and teaching activities, Lester is a longtime advocate for underrepresented minorities in the sciences and higher education, doing so in a number of different capacities. He was a longtime member of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) and served on the organization’s National Board (1984-1987). At the University of California, Berkeley, he was active in several university initiatives aimed at aiding minority students, faculty, and staff, including the Chancellor’s Committee on Diversity and the Special Scholarships Committee. From 1995 to 1996, he served as the National Science Foundation’s Assistant to the Director for Human Resource Development. Lester also had a longstanding professional relationship with Jackson State University, serving this historically black university as a member of the External Advisory Committee for Computational Center for Molecular Structure and Interactions’ CREST Program and as Adjunct Professor at its Department of Chemistry.

William A. Lester, Jr. authored and co-authored more than two hundred scientific papers and presented papers at numerous professional conferences over the course of his career. He is co-author of the book Monte Carlo Methods in Ab Initio Quantum Chemistry, editor of the book Recent Advances in Quantum Monte Carlo Method, and co-editor of the book Recent Advances in Quantum Monte Carlo Methods. Part II. Lester was an active member of several professional organizations, including the American Chemical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Gordon Research Conferences. He is also the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers’ Percy L. Julian Award (1979), Fellow of the American Physical Society (1984), Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1991), and the University of California, Berkeley’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2019).

Sources

William A. Lester, Jr. Papers, Science History Institute Archives, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

William A. Lester, Jr., “William Lester: Professor of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley,” conducted by Nadine Wilmot, 2003, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2014. - https://digicoll.lib.berkeley.edu/record/218886?In=en

Extent

70.0 Linear Feet (67 Record Boxes, 1 Hollinger Box, 2 Half Hollinger Boxes, 1 Oversized Hollinger Box, and 2 CD-ROM Boxes.)

Abstract

Correspondence, professional files, manuscripts, printed materials, notebooks, electronic storage materials, audio-visual materials, and photographic materials of African American theoretical chemist and chemistry educator William A. Lester, Jr.

Acquisition Information

The William A. Lester, Jr. Papers were donated to the Science History Institute by William A. Lester, Jr. in April 2023.

Related Materials

There are no other known archival collections created by William A. Lester, Jr. preserved at the date of processing.

Processing Information

The William A. Lester, Jr. Papers were processed by Kenton G. Jaehnig in January 2024.

Title
William A. Lester, Jr. Papers
Status
In Progress
Author
Finding aid created and encoded into EAD by Kenton G. Jaehnig.
Date
2024
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

Part of the Science History Institute Archives Repository

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