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African American Faculty and Senior Staff Oral History Project

About the Project
Interview Transcripts
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In Memoriam

William Lester Transcript

Conducted by Nadine Wilmot in 2003, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2014.


Photo of William Lester

Professor William A. Lester, Jr., joined UC Berkeley’s chemistry department in 1981, after having worked in the government and private sectors. He earned his B.S. at the University of Chicago and M.S. at the University of Chicago; and in 1964 he earned his Ph.D. at Catholic University of America. As director of the National Resource for Computation in Chemistry, he led the nation’s first umbrella group for chemists, which pioneered and disseminated new computation methodologies.  His research work is focused on theoretical studies of the electronic structure of molecules, an area in which he and his research group work to extend the quantum Monte Carlo (QMC) to the range of problems that form the domain of quantum chemistry.  He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors. At UC Berkeley, he served as the Faculty Athletics Representative from 1999 through 2004 and associate dean of the College of Chemistry from 1991 to 1995. Like others interviewed as part of this series, his life and work has spanned several critical shifts in higher education in the United States. In this interview, he discusses his life and work in science during a time of social and technological change.

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