July 2, 2014

Arts and Sciences Dean Emeritus Geoffrey Chester dies

Geoffrey Chester

Geoffrey V. Chester, professor emeritus of physics and dean emeritus of Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences, died June 27 at age 86 in Ithaca.

A professor at Cornell since 1964, he was an authority on liquid helium. His research group was one of the first to carry out simulations of a wide range of condensed-matter systems. Much of his work focused on the liquid and solid phases of helium three and four. In addition he was interested in classical and quantum spin systems, order and disorder in solids, two-dimensional melting and problems in materials science.

“Geoffrey Chester’s work pioneered the use of computational methods to elucidate the nature of the ground state of helium,” said Jeevak Parpia, professor and chair of physics. “He also was a willing member of many experimental Ph.D. students’ special committees (including mine) and was known and sought after for his deep insight.”

Memorial Service
A campus memorial service for Arts and Sciences Dean Emeritus Geoffrey Chester will be held Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. in Anabel Taylor Chapel.

Born in the United Kingdom on March 11, 1928, Chester served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1986 to 1991 and as associate dean the eight years prior. As dean, Chester offered freed Soviet dissident scientist and human rights activist Yuri F. Orlov a research position at Cornell; Orlov is now a professor of physics and of government at Cornell.

“Geoffrey Chester was not only an outstanding scientist, but an exceedingly kind and decent human being,” said Orlov. “His generous offer of a position at Cornell gave me crucial help in rebuilding my scientific career, after years in labor camp and Siberian exile. I have always been deeply grateful to him.”

Chester also served as director of Cornell’s Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics from 1968 to 1974 and became an emeritus professor in 1995. In 1971, he was awarded a John S. Guggenheim Fellowship.

He earned a Bachelor of Science degree (1950) from Edinburgh University and a Ph.D. (1953) from King’s College of London University. Chester came to the United States in 1954 as a research fellow at Yale University; he was a research fellow at the University of Chicago and a research associate and senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham, England, before coming to Cornell in 1961 as a visiting professor.

“Geoffrey Chester was one of the first to recognize the importance of computer simulations to help us understand complex forms of bulk matter,” said David Mermin, professor emeritus of physics. “His broad knowledge of the scientific literature and scholarly interest in diverse kinds of physics made him an invaluable resource for colleagues at Cornell and around the world.”

Chester is survived by his wife, artist Carolyn (McFadden) Chester, three children and numerous other family members.