Carnegie Mellon University
April 28, 2016

Obituary: Nobel Laureate Walter Kohn

By Jocelyn Duffy

Obituary: Nobel Laureate Walter Kohn

Walter Kohn at the Inaugural John A. Pople Lectures in 2009 Walter Kohn at the Inaugural John A. Pople Lectures in 2009

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Walter Kohn, a former professor at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (CIT), now Carnegie Mellon University, died on April 19. He was 93.

Kohn won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1998, sharing the prize with the late John A. Pople, who was also a former member of the Carnegie Mellon faculty. While Kohn and Pople never collaborated, they both were singled out by the Nobel committee as being the most prominent figures in the creation of quantum computational chemistry, a field of study that revolutionized the whole of chemistry by allowing scientists to identify the inner structure of matter. Kohn developed the density-functional theory that simplified the mathematics needed to describe the bonding of atoms, making it possible to study large molecules. In recent years, Kohn had turned his interests towards solar power, producing a documentary titled “The Power of the Sun.”           

Kohn was a member of the CIT faculty from 1950 to 1960. In 1979 he was chosen to be the founding director of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he remained for the rest of his career. Kohn last returned to Carnegie Mellon in 2009 to give the first of the university’s John A. Pople Lectures in Theoretical and Computational Chemistry

New York Times obituary: Walter Kohn, Who Won Nobel in Chemistry, Dies at 93
Washington Post obituary: Walter Kohn, onetime refugee who became Nobel laureate in chemistry, dies at 93 
Chemical & Engineering News obituary: Chemistry Nobel Laureate Walter Kohn dies at age 93