Walter Kohn: Nobel Laureate

Walter Kohn ([link]) is a theoretical physicist who studies the electronic structure of solids. His work combines the principles of quantum mechanics with advanced mathematical techniques. This technique, called density functional theory, makes it possible to compute properties of molecular orbitals, including their shape and energies. Kohn and mathematician John Pople were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1998 for their contributions to our understanding of electronic structure. Kohn also made significant contributions to the physics of semiconductors.

Walter Kohn developed methods to describe molecular orbitals. (credit: image courtesy of Walter Kohn)

Kohn’s biography has been remarkable outside the realm of physical chemistry as well. He was born in Austria, and during World War II he was part of the Kindertransport program that rescued 10,000 children from the Nazi regime. His summer jobs included discovering gold deposits in Canada and helping Polaroid explain how its instant film worked. Although he is now an emeritus professor, he is still actively working on projects involving global warming and renewable energy.