Walter Kohn

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Walter Kohn (2012)

Walter Kohn (born March 9, 1923 in Vienna , † April 19,  2016 in Santa Barbara , California ) was an American physicist of Austrian origin. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his development of the density functional theory , the basis of which is the Hohenberg-Kohn theorem .


Kohn grew up in Vienna as the son of Jewish parents. He attended the Academic Gymnasium in Vienna . His father ran the postcard publishing house Brothers Kohn, founded by Salomon Kohn . While his parents and many other relatives perished in the Holocaust , he got to England on a Kindertransport . As part of a forced resettlement of "German" civilian internees , who were regarded as enemy aliens , he reached Canada in 1940 and was taken in there by Bruno Mendel , who had immigrated in 1938, together with Josef Eisinger . During the Second World War he was a soldier on the Canadian side.

Kohn received his bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics from the University of Toronto in 1945 and his master's degree in applied mathematics a year later . His teachers included HSM Coxeter , John Lighton Synge , Leopold Infeld and Richard Brauer . In 1948 he received his doctorate in theoretical physics from Harvard University under Julian Schwinger . The subject was the quantum mechanical three-body problem . He taught from 1950 to 1960 at Carnegie Mellon University , then until 1979 at the University of California, San Diego . From 1953 to the mid-1960s he worked regularly for Bell Laboratories , where he a. a. with William B. Shockley and Joaquin M. Luttinger z. B. collaborated on the theory of impurities in semiconductors.

In 1959 he published his discovery of the Kohn anomaly , a divergence in the dispersion relation in phonons . According to Kohn, his work on density functional theory began in his work on the electronic structure of alloys (since 1963), where he worked in Paris with Pierre Hohenberg and in San Diego with Lu J. Sham .

In 1979 he became founding director of the internationally renowned Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara; In 1984 he became a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara , where he also retired . He had been a US citizen since 1957.

In Vienna, he donated the Jewish private secondary school Zwi-Perez-Chajes-Schule and the academic high school the Walter Kohn Prize for work on the connection between human rights and natural science.

Walter Kohn was married twice and has three daughters. In 1998 he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on density functional theory .

Kohn died on April 19, 2016 in Santa Barbara, California at the age of 93.

Prizes and awards

A banner at the University of California at Santa Barbara that Walter Kohn won the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

He has been a Fellow of the American Physical Society since 1960, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1963 , of the National Academy of Sciences since 1969 and of the American Philosophical Society since 1994 . In 2003 he was elected a corresponding member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences . In 2011 he became an honorary member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW). Since 2006 he has been a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences .


  • Pierre Hohenberg , Walter Kohn: Inhomogeneous Electron Gas . In: Physical Review , 136, 1964, pp. B864-B871
  • W. Kohn, LJ Sham: Self-Consistent Equations Including Exchange and Correlation Effects . In: Physical Review . Volume 140, 1965, pp. A1133-A1138

Research note

Walter Kohn is often confused with the political scientist Walter Samuel Gerst-Kohn, born in 1923 in Lichtenfels , Upper Franconia , or mixed up with his biographical data , both online and in the printed secondary literature .

Web links

Commons : Walter Kohn  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Prof. Dr. Josef Eisinger: Escape and Refuge - memories of an eventful youth (PDF file; 11.9 megabytes). Edited by Documentation archive of the Austrian resistance. Vienna 2019, ISBN 978-3-901142-74-1 , pp. 118–152, 239
  2. Annette Puckhaber: A privilege for the few. German-speaking migration to Canada in the shadow of National Socialism (PDF file; 2.5 megabytes). LIT-Verlag, Münster 2002, ISBN 3-8258-6219-4 , p. 173 ff.
  3. ^ How Canada lost its Nobel prize . In: Ottawa Citizen , October 16, 1998
  4. ^ - Nobel laureate Walter Kohn has died . Science , April 22, 2016, accessed April 22, 2016.
  5. ^ "Anti-Semitism is a terrible poison" on ORF from December 4, 2012, accessed on December 5, 2012
  6. Honorary doctorates. September 29, 2017. Retrieved March 25, 2018 .
  7. List of all decorations awarded by the Federal President for services to the Republic of Austria from 1952 (PDF; 6.9 MB)
  8. University of Vienna honors three Nazi refugees on ORF from December 3, 2012, accessed on December 3, 2012
  9. Uni: Blick: Award of an honorary doctorate to the "world stars of science"
  10. APS Fellow Archive. Retrieved January 25, 2020 .
  11. ^ Member History: Walter Kohn. American Philosophical Society, accessed October 26, 2018 .
  12. Walter Kohn becomes an honorary member of the OeAW
  13. ^ Foreign members of the Russian Academy of Sciences since 1724. Walter Kohn. Russian Academy of Sciences, accessed September 22, 2015 (Russian).