Walter Kohn

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


Kohn grew up in Vienna to Jewish parents. He attended the Academic Gymnasium in Vienna. His father ran the founded by Salomon Kohn Postkartenverlag brothers Kohn. While his parents and many relatives perished in the Holocaust, he was able to emigrate on a Kindertransport to England and then to Canada, and was also on the Canadian side in World War II soldier.

Kohn received his B. A. later in mathematics and physics at the University of Toronto in 1945 and one year master's degree in applied mathematics. Among his teachers were HSM Coxeter, John Lighton Synge, Leopold Infeld and Richard Brewer. In 1948 he received his doctorate from Harvard University with Julian Schwinger in theoretical physics ( theme was the quantum mechanical three-body problem ). He taught from 1950 to 1960 at Carnegie Mellon University, then to 1960 at the University of California, San Diego. From 1953 until the mid- 1960s he regularly worked for Bell Laboratories, where, for example, he worked among others with William B. Shockley and Joaquin M. Luttinger on the theory of impurities in semiconductors.

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

In 1979 he was founding director of the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, in 1984 he became a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he also retired. Since 1957 he is a U.S. citizen.

He donated the private Jewish secondary school Zwi Perez Chajes school and the Academic Gymnasium in Vienna the Walter Kohn Award for work in the area of ​​human rights and natural science.

Walter Kohn is married for the second time and has three daughters.

Prizes and Awards (excerpt)

He is since 1963 a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1969 and of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2011, he became an honorary member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (AAS ).


  • W. Kohn and LJ Sham: Self- Consistent Equations Including Exchange and Correlation Effects. In: Physical Review. Volume 140, 1965, pp. A1133 - A1138