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William Lester, Jr.

Distinguished theoretical chemist William Lester, Jr., was born on April 24, 1937, in Chicago, Illinois, where he attended all-black elementary schools due to racial segregation. After World War II, Lester's family moved and he attended a formerly all-white high school; he went on to receive his B.S. degree in 1958, and his master’s degree in chemistry in 1959 from the University of Chicago. Lester obtained his Ph.D. in chemistry from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1964.

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. Entering the University of Chicago on a history scholarship, Lester set scoring records in basketball, two of which were still standing after forty-eight years. 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 a postdoctoral appointment at the University of Wisconsin in Madison where he worked on the molecular collision theory. The IBM Corporation then hired Lester to work at its research laboratory in San Jose, California. 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.

Lester 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. In 2002, Lester became the president of the Pac-10 Conference.

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 sparking an interest in pursuing science careers in minority students.

Lester and his wife, Rochelle (deceased), raised two children: son, William A. Lester, III, and daughter, Allison L. Ramsey.

Accession Number

A2004.043

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

4/7/2004

10/13/2005

11/7/2012

Last Name

Lester

Middle Name

A.

Schools

McCosh Elementary School

Frank L. Gillespie Technology Magnet Cluster School

Calumet Career Prep Academy High School

University of Chicago

Washington University in St Louis

Catholic University of America

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Archival Photo 2
Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

William

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

LES01

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Depends on audience - $1,000 - $5,000

Favorite Season

Spring

Speaker Bureau Notes

Allstate honoree

Sponsor

National Science Foundation

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean, Maui, Barbados

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Interview Description
Birth Date

4/24/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Bay Area/San Francisco

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Red Beans, Rice, Steak, Mexican Food

Short Description

Chemistry professor and chemist William Lester, Jr. (1937 - ) was the former director of the National Resource for Computation in Chemistry. He later joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley as Professor of Chemistry, and published over 200 papers in his field.

Employment

National Bureau of Standards (NBS)

IBM

National Resource for Computation in Chemistry

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

University of California, Berkeley

University of Wisconsin, Madison

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

Black

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29037">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of William Lester's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29038">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - William Lester shares his favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29039">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - William Lester talks about his mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29040">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - William Lester discusses his father's background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29041">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - William Lester shares his parents' stories of their childhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29042">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - William Lester talks about his grandparents</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29043">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - William Lester talks about his extended family</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29044">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - William Lester talks about his sisters and their families</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29045">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - William Lester describes his childhood homelife</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29046">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - William Lester describes Chicago in the 1940s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29047">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - William Lester talks about his elementary school experiences in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29048">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - William Lester describes his family's history in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29049">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - William Lester talks about his high school experiences</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29050">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - William Lester talks about his primary school teachers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29051">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - William Lester discusses his interests as a youth</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29052">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - William Lester talks about working at the post office while studying at the University of Chicago</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29053">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - William Lester describes the curriculum at the University of Chicago</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29054">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - William Lester talks about his starring college basketball career at the University of Chicago, part 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29055">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - William Lester describes earning his M.S. degree from the University of Chicago</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29056">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - William Lester talks about his starring college basketball career at the University of Chicago, part 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29057">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - William Lester talks about his master's studies at the University of Chicago</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29058">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - William Lester describes his graduate school experience at Washington University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29059">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - William Lester describes his move to Washington, D.C. to attend The Catholic University of America</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29060">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - William Lester describes his work at the National Bureau of Standards</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29061">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - William Lester describes his courses at The Catholic University of America</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29062">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - William Lester describes correlated molecular orbital theory</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29063">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - William Lester discusses his work ethic</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29064">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - William Lester talks about his options for postdoctoral fellowships</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29065">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - William Lester reflects on the Civil Rights Movement in Washington, D.C.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29066">Tape: 3 Story: 10 - William Lester talks about the work environment of the University of Wisconsin--Madison</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29067">Tape: 3 Story: 11 - William Lester discusses affirmative action</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29068">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - William Lester describes his photographs</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29069">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - William Lester talks about his decision to work at the University of Wisconsin, Madison</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29070">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - William Lester describes the close-coupling problem</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29071">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - William Lester discusses the work environment at the University of Wisconsin, Madison</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29072">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - William Lester recalls his move to California</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29073">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - William Lester recalls living in Madison, Wisconsin</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29074">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - William Lester describes the benefits of working at IBM</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29075">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - William Lester describes San Jose, California</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29076">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - William Lester describes his career at IBM</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29077">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - William Lester recalls serving as director of the National Resource for Computation in Chemistry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29078">Tape: 5 Story: 10 - William Lester discusses building the NRCC program</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29079">Tape: 5 Story: 11 - William Lester recalls the end of the NRCC and the beginning of his career at the University of California, Berkeley</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29080">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - William Lester discusses the Quantum Monte Carlo method, part 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29081">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - William Lester discusses the Quantum Monte Carlo method, part 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29082">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - William Lester describes his work environment at the University of California, Berkeley</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29083">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - William Lester talks about the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers [NOBCChE]</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29084">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - William Lester discusses his role as athletics representative for the PAC 10</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29085">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - William Lester talks about his STEM professional affiliations</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29086">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - William Lester talks about his travels</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29087">Tape: 7 Story: 1 - William Lester discusses the role of his research in spectroscopy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29088">Tape: 7 Story: 2 - William Lester discusses the role of his research in understanding photosynthesis</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29089">Tape: 7 Story: 3 - William Lester talks about computer programming in computational chemistry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29090">Tape: 7 Story: 4 - William Lester shares his hobbies and other interests</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29091">Tape: 7 Story: 5 - William Lester talks about his wife, Rochelle Lester</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29092">Tape: 7 Story: 6 - William Lester discusses the success of his son, William A. Lester III</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29093">Tape: 7 Story: 7 - William Lester talks about his daughter, Alison Ramsey</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29094">Tape: 7 Story: 8 - William Lester talks about his cousin, William A.J. Ross</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29095">Tape: 8 Story: 1 - William Lester provides a brief summary of his family history</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29096">Tape: 8 Story: 2 - William Lester talks about seeking equal representation for African Americans in science</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29097">Tape: 8 Story: 3 - William Lester talks about his organizational affiliations</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29098">Tape: 8 Story: 4 - William Lester shares his goals for his future</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29099">Tape: 8 Story: 5 - William Lester discusses enjoying his career as a scientist</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29100">Tape: 8 Story: 6 - William Lester talks about education in the African American community</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29101">Tape: 8 Story: 7 - William Lester talks about how he wants to be remembered</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29102">Tape: 8 Story: 8 - William Lester talks about generating random numbers in the Monte Carlo Method</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29103">Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Slating of William Lester's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29104">Tape: 9 Story: 2 - William Lester describes the history of the development of the quantum Monte Carlo method</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29105">Tape: 9 Story: 3 - William Lester describes his experience with the quantum Monte Carlo method</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29106">Tape: 9 Story: 4 - William Lester describes his transition into using the quantum Monte technique and his current work</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29107">Tape: 9 Story: 5 - William Lester describes his work with graphene</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29108">Tape: 9 Story: 6 - William Lester talks about his life after retirement and his health</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29109">Tape: 9 Story: 7 - William Lester talks about being featured in the 2004 Allstate calendar</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29110">Tape: 10 Story: 1 - William Lester talks about playing basketball</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29111">Tape: 10 Story: 2 - William Lester describes his decision to attend the University of Chicago and his basketball career there</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29112">Tape: 10 Story: 3 - William Lester describes the accomplished physicists he was exposed to at the University of Chicago</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29113">Tape: 10 Story: 4 - William Lester describes what influenced his decision to attend Washington University in St. Louis</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29114">Tape: 10 Story: 5 - William Lester describes balancing family life with graduate school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29115">Tape: 10 Story: 6 - William Lester talks about the African American scientists who trained at Catholic University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29116">Tape: 10 Story: 7 - William Lester talks about fellow basketball players at the University of Chicago</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29117">Tape: 10 Story: 8 - William Lester describes receiving the INCITE Award in 2004</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29118">Tape: 10 Story: 9 - William Lester describes his visits to Europe for work</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29119">Tape: 11 Story: 1 - William Lester describes his awards and honors</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29120">Tape: 11 Story: 2 - William Lester talks about NOBCChE and Isiah Warner</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29121">Tape: 11 Story: 3 - William Lester talks about his seventieth birthday celebration at the University of California, Berkeley</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29122">Tape: 11 Story: 4 - William Lester talks about receiving the Stanley C. Israel Award and reflects upon his career in chemistry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29123">Tape: 11 Story: 5 - William Lester reflects upon his legacy and talks about current politics</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29124">Tape: 11 Story: 6 - William Lester describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community today</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29125">Tape: 11 Story: 7 - William Lester describes his involvement with The HistoryMakers' ScienceMakers Program</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/29126">Tape: 11 Story: 8 - William Lester talks about how he would like to be remembered</a>

DASession

2$2

DATape

6$5

DAStory

1$8

DATitle
William Lester discusses the Quantum Monte Carlo method, part 1
William Lester describes his career at IBM
Transcript
So you've been accepted to start your research at Berkeley (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Oh, yes, yes. I was appointed professor of chemistry at UC Berkeley [University of California, Berkeley], and well, what's to say except that--oh, I should back up a little bit because the nature of my research changed dramatically while I was director of the National Resource for Computation in Chemistry. One of the people I had hired was a physicist, condensed matter physicist, by the name of David Ceperley. And David came into my office one day indicating he had a 100 percent of the correlation energy for the electron gas. Now, the correlation energy is the difference between the theoretically, the theoretical exact energy for the system in energy of the system in what we call the mean field approximation, that is, an approximation in which you consider that the system is one in which a given electron is in the field of the N minus one other electrons. And each electron is viewed in this way. Well, anyway, this leads to well-known approximations in the electronic structure for molecules, it's called the Hartree Fock approximation, H-A-R-T-R-E-E, named after a fellow by the name of Hartree, who was English and Fock, F-O-C-K, who was a Russian. And I won't say what the contributions of each of them was. It gets a little bit technical for lay people in that respect, but simply to say that a 100 percent of the correlation energy was really quite an achievement. But it was foreign model system and electron gas is one way of considering a solid, in which you don't treat the solid in its explicit detail, but basically electrons in this see our gas, electron gas model. So I said, "Well, what about atoms and molecules, something which I understand." He said, "Well, really I'm a condensed matter physicist," and to some extent was not so keen about pursuing that but would do in collaboration. And this was done. I hired a fellow in the last year of NRCC [National Resource for Computation in Chemistry] by the name of Peter [J.] Reynolds who came from the East Coast. He had been a research professor at Boston University but had gotten his degree, his undergraduate degree, from Berkeley. He was a Berkeley product, a very brilliant young man, who wanted to come back to the West Coast. And so as a consequence, this led to our first publication of Quantum Monte Carlo for Molecules, which was published in or appeared in 1982. NRCC closed in 1981 and based upon the quality of results coming out of that study, I--and having done electronic structure for my Ph.D., this was really fascinating stuff. I mean the results were as good as the state of the art by any other technique that people were pursuing who had been engaged in electronic structure of molecules up to that point. And so I changed my research direction when I came on the faculty, continued to pursue Quantum Monte Carlo for molecules. And we began to build and extend the capability of the technique for larger systems, for higher accuracy, for understanding what was needed to improve upon results that had been obtained at that time. I should add that one aspect in terms of Ceperley that I hadn't mentioned before, and that is the idea of hiring him was the notion of a fellow by the name of Berni [Julian] Alder. And Bernie Alder is a scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [Livermore, California], internationally recognized and respected for his work originally in classical Monte Carlo. Quantum Monte Carlo means that one is taking into account the fermion character of electrons and nuclei. By that I mean that--$$Fermion?$$The fermion is a system which has spin, and that indeed, you can have regions of both positive and negative phase, which means that, in terms of Monte Carlo simulations, what you are doing classically is adding up numbers of the same sign to get a mean and an uncertainty associated with the evaluation. With Quantum Monte Carlo because the system, the function can have both positive and negative phases, you have to find a way so that you end up adding up numbers of the same sign in order to get a mean and an uncertainty. And without going into detail, it is possible to do that in the way that, something we call a fixed node approximation, which says that--well, I don't, I don't want to go into that. That's another half hour or so just in terms of the general ideas of Quantum Monte Carlo in its simplest manifestation.$But backing up a bit, through the early '70s [1970s], I had achieved somewhat of a positive reputation and I was viewed to be on the fast track for advancement in management. It was suggested that I go and spend time on the technical planning staff with the vice president and director of research, Ralph [E.] Gomory. This I did. And this meant going, moving to actually White Plains, New York for the year. That laboratory is located in Yorktown Heights, New York, it's the T.J. Watson Research Center. And that was a very interesting experience. I was on a committee or--which involved other young people, and it was clear to me that these folks really were, wanted to pursue advanced management in IBM, and it became clear to me that really I preferred my research to rising in the system at IBM per se. It reached an interesting point when I returned to San Jose because it was suggested that things didn't work well for me in Yorktown. I said, "Oh, I don't understand that." Well, then as I reflected on it, very possibly in terms of what you did while you were there and so on and how people spent their time, and so the commitment to the IBM administrative management direction was not fully there, that that's probably the basis upon which this decision or this view was held. Now I should back up and say also that prior to this, some two or three years earlier, I was selected to participate in a career development workshop. And the guys who ran this said, you know, in effect, you know, they're looking at you for management. I said, "Oh, yeah, really?" And so they went and volunteered that, "Yeah, we can shade it one way or the other." I said, "Really, at this point in my career, I really want to pursue my science as opposed to management." And they said, "Well, okay, we'll indicate that in the report," which they did, that, although Bill has, you know, potential for being a successful manager, he really should be allowed to pursue his research at this time. So there's this dilemma that confronts one, I think, early on in the management scheme in an institution of that type at that time, since things are very different now in terms of IBM and the parallel research laboratory that existed at the time, Bell Labs, in the sense that there is considerably less freedom. There's more pointed research towards the mission of the company than there was at the time I was there. So they're very different institutions in that sense.