If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal

by Sophia L. Cai
January 20, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 3

Marsha I. Lester

Sponsored by the Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal Endowment

It is clear that Marsha I. Lester, 58, a chemistry professor at the University of Pennsylvania, would be recognized as an outstanding scientist on the merits of her scientific achievements alone. Her early research focused on open-shell complexes now known as “entrance channel complexes” for reactions of significance in atmospheric and combustion chemistry, and she has since developed elegant spectroscopic experiments to measure the structure and reactivity of unstable species. Most recently, her research group obtained the first ultraviolet spectra of Criegee intermediates arising from alkene ozonolysis in Earth’s troposphere.

But her colleagues insist her contributions to chemistry reach beyond her scientific breakthroughs. They rave about her “invaluable service to the scientific community” and “tireless efforts at advancing women in chemistry.”

“Her commitment to students, to research, and to betterment of the scientific enterprise is unstinting,” says George W. Flynn, the chemistry professor at Columbia University who directed Lester’s thesis research in 1977–81. “Marsha Lester has been a model scientific citizen for more than 30 years.”

In addition to contributing to the chemistry community through her research and her service on numerous national committees, Lester is a champion of women in the sciences. Lester has “worked throughout her career in promoting women in science at all levels,” says Geraldine (Geri) Richmond, a chemistry professor at the University of Oregon. “She is a remarkable advocate and role model for women.”

Lester was the first woman to serve as chair of Penn’s chemistry department, completing her four-year term in 2009. That same year, she was appointed editor-in-chief of theJournal of Chemical Physics,making her the first woman to be editor of any of the journals published by the American Institute of Physics. She continues to hold that post.

“I am passionate about science and feel lucky to have been successful and accepted within the scientific community. I am also privileged to serve as editor of theJournal of Chemical Physics,which gives me great visibility within the community,” Lester says. “Yet there are still obstacles that make it hard for women to succeed to their full potential and ambition in academia. I have consistently devoted time to advancing women in science.”

Most recently, she became a founding member of the Penn Forum for Women Faculty and has engaged in AWARDS, a joint action group through the American Chemical Society and the Association for Women in Science, to find ways to increase the number of women nominees for ACS national awards.

Lester received a B.A. in chemistry from Douglass College, Rutgers University, in 1976 and went on to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry at Columbia University in 1981. She rose through the academic ranks at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is currently the Edmund J. Kahn Distinguished Professor in the department of chemistry.

When she’s not enmeshed in chemistry, Lester says she cherishes time with family and friends. She also loves combining athletic pursuits and nature, through activities including cycling, hiking, sailing, and snorkeling.

Lester will present her award address before the Division of Physical Chemistry.


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.