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Carnegie Mellon
photo of Walter Kohn


Emeritus and Research Professor of Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara
Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 1998

Walter Kohn was born in Vienna, Austria in 1923 to a Jewish family. After the Nazis invaded Austria, he was able to escape to England through the British Kindertransport program. During World War II he served in the Canadian Army.

After earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto, Kohn received his Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Harvard University and completed post-doctoral work at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. In the early 1950s, he worked at Bell Telephone Laboratories, as an assistant to William Shockley, the leader of the group that invented the transistor.

Kohn has taught at many universities, including the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) from 1950 until 1960, and has done collaborative research around the world. In 1979 he was chosen to be the founding director of the U.S. Institute of Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

He has received numerous awards including the Niels Bohr/ UNESCO Gold Medal and the U.S. National Medal of Science. His role in creating the most widely used theory of the electronic structure of matter earned him the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with John A. Pople. Until 2007, Kohn was an active member of the U.S. government’s Basic Energy Science Advisory Committee.

Currently, Kohn is making and distributing a documentary on solar power entitled “The Power of the Sun.”