Professor John Berry Appointed Lester R. McNall Professor of Chemistry

Professor John Berry has been named the Lester R. McNall Professor of Chemistry. In 2015, Lester R. McNall endowed the professorship in order to provide ongoing support for faculty excellence in the UW-Madison Department of Chemistry.

Berry joined the Department of Chemistry as an assistant professor in 2006. He was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2012 and full professor in 2015. Inorganic chemistry is his primary focus area, and his research group investigates structure and bonding in transition metal compounds. Berry is a principal investigator with the Center for Selective C-H Functionalization, an NSF-funded Center for Chemical Innovation involving 15 institutions throughout the U.S.

“John is internationally recognized as one of the leading inorganic chemists of his generation,” Professor and Department Chair Robert McMahon says. “His research program combines synthesis, spectroscopy, and electronic structure studies of transition metal compounds to establish new interrelationships between structure, bonding, and chemical reactivity.”

To date, Berry has advised and mentored eight doctoral graduates and a number of undergraduate researchers, master’s students, and postdoctoral researchers. He also has made notable contributions to the department through his teaching service. Berry was the first chemistry faculty member to use online homework assignments in introductory general chemistry courses. The assignments provide students instant feedback as they complete each exercise.

Professor John Berry shares his research with prospective chemistry graduate students
Professor Berry discusses his group's inorganic chemistry research with prospective students participating in the department's CHOPs and PGSEC programs.

As a fellow of the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy (WISL), Berry also actively engages in outreach activities that highlight connections between arts and sciences, especially music and chemistry.

Dr. Lester McNall (B.S. ’50) is the founder and former CEO of Nutrient Technologies, a manufacturing company dedicated to plant nutrition technologies. The De Sangosse Group acquired the company in 2015. As an undergraduate student at UW-Madison, McNall worked with Professor Samuel McElvain, a noted organic chemist. He later earned a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles.

In fall 2014, long-time UW-Madison supporters John and Tashia Morgridge made a $100 million commitment — the largest single gift in the university’s history — to match gifts given to support endowed professorships and chairs.

At the time, the match seemed like a huge goal that would take years to reach. But thanks to the support of more than 1,000 generous alumni and donors such as McNall, the entire $100 million had been committed by June 2015 to support 158 professorships and chairs across campus.

Thanks to generous pledges and gifts from chemistry alumni and friends, the Department of Chemistry is set to receive four new professorships and chairs by 2020:

  • Lester R. McNall Professorship in Chemistry
  • Yamamoto Family Professorship in Chemistry
  • Irving Shain Chair in Chemistry
  • Wayland E. Noland Distinguished Chair in Chemistry

When fully funded, these professorships and chairs will increase the department’s permanent endowment by $7 million, resulting in more than $300,000 in new annual funding. This yearly support will provide flexible research funding for the faculty members who hold the professorships and chairs, as well as partial support for faculty salaries.  

—Libby Dowdall