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Fellows Directory

Walter Kohn

Professor Walter Kohn ForMemRS

Foreign Member

Elected: 1998


Walter Kohn was a theoretical physicist who used quantum mechanics to understand electron bonding between the atoms within molecules. His density functional theory (DFT) became an essential tool for understanding electronic materials and their structure in condensed-matter physics, computational physics and computational chemistry.

Walter’s DFT theory calculated the total energy of an atomic or molecular system if the spatial distribution of all electrons within that system are known. His approach greatly simplified the computations needed to understand the electron bonding between atoms within molecules. Walter won the 1998 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his density functional theory, sharing it with John Pople.

Walter also has acted as an expert consultant on renewable energies and global warming for the US government’s Basic Energy Science Advisory Committee and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In 2005, he co-produced The Power of the Sun — The Science of the Silicon Solar Cell, a classroom documentary on solar power narrated by John Cleese.

Sir Walter Kohn ForMemRS died on 19 April 2016.


  • Nobel Prize in Chemistry

    Half of prize for his development of the density-functional theory.