NOMAD Laboratory


May 4, 2016

Building on the legacy of Walter Kohn

Walter Kohn died April 19, 2016 at the age of 93.


From a childhood of unimaginable persecution, Walter Kohn rose to become a great theoretical physicist, influencing condensed-matter theory in many areas: band-structure theory, surface science, van der Waals interactions, defects in semiconductors, and more. His work inspired generations of theoretical physicists and chemists and laid the foundations for the rapid development of modern electronic structure theory.  For his development of density-functional theory he was honored by the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1998). He is the founder and father of modern computational materials science, and his impact is reflected, for example, in the figure below.

Number of articles and patents in materials science including the term “density functional theory” published per year during the past 25 years (Nature Materials 15, 365 (2016).

Walter Kohn and his wife Mara were a remarkable, complementary, wonderful team. We have lost a responsible, humane person, a good friend, and such a good soul.

A detailed obituary has been published, for example, by the New York Times and by his University of California Santa Barbara. The latter also includes this one-minute movie.