HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Topics » Science » Science (Group) » Walter Kohn has died.

Mon Jun 6, 2016, 10:57 PM

Walter Kohn has died.

Nature 534, 38 (02 June 2016) (Walter Kohn (1923–2016))

We are privileged to live near Princeton University, and my sons and I have had opportunities to attend lectures at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, helping my "little guy" - he's now, as a high school student, taller than me - develop an interest in materials science. Until recently, the Andlinger Center, which has just completed the construction of a brand new building with some interesting properties, was headed by Dr. Emily Carter, a pioneer in the concept of "Orbital Free Density Functional Theory" OFDFT in which chemical structures are treated as an electron gas.

While our understanding of the nuts and bolts of OFDFT is somewhat primitive, we recognize that DFT itself has proved to be one of the most useful computational tools in chemistry and materials chemistry. DFT is largely the work of Walter Kohn, in his derivation of the Kohn-Sham equations and the "H-K Theorem" or Hohenberg-Kohn theorem, which proves that the ground state solution of the Schrödinger equation is uniquely specified by the electron density.

DFT theory has lead to huge advances in the physics of condensed matter and in chemistry, and as stated previously in materials science.

Walter Kohn was an American Scientist out of UC San Diego who had a rather unique story. In the late 1930's, some English citizens, after the horrible Kristalnacht pogrom in Nazi German, arranged to bring Jewish children - their parents could not be admitted to England - to England where they were "temporarily" adopted by English families until things "got better." It is known today as the famous "Kindertransport" which took place from 1938 until the outbreak of war in September of 1939. Things, of course, didn't "get better." The families of most of these children were exterminated.

Many of the Children saved by the Kindertransport went on to become important citizens of the world, Walter Kohn among them. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1998.

(Another famous Kindertransport survivor was the Rock Impresario Bill Graham of Filmore fame.)

Many of us, most of us, don't realize how much this important scientific concept, DFT, has impacted our lives, but it has in ways we can barely imagine.

A giant has passed.

Rest in a well deserved peace, Walter Kohn.

11 replies, 2102 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 11 replies Author Time Post
Reply Walter Kohn has died. (Original post)
NNadir Jun 2016 OP
Journeyman Jun 2016 #1
NNadir Jun 2016 #2
BlancheSplanchnik Jun 2016 #3
passiveporcupine Jun 2016 #4
mountain grammy Jun 2016 #5
alain2112 Jun 2016 #6
NNadir Jun 2016 #8
alain2112 Jun 2016 #9
NNadir Jun 2016 #10
alain2112 Jun 2016 #11
burrowowl Jun 2016 #7

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Mon Jun 6, 2016, 11:06 PM

1. Thank you for the post . . .

an important passing is noted, and a little-known humanitarian act illuminated.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Journeyman (Reply #1)

Mon Jun 6, 2016, 11:10 PM

2. My pleasure. n/t.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to NNadir (Original post)

Tue Jun 7, 2016, 12:07 AM

3. wow...that hit me...

My Dad --who was Jewish-- came here from England in the transports around that time of kids from England to the US. London was being heavily bombed. I think they called it the Evacuation?

He didn't talk much about it; I don't know what year it was or hardly anything.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to NNadir (Original post)

Tue Jun 7, 2016, 12:13 AM

4. K&R

RIP Walter

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to NNadir (Original post)

Tue Jun 7, 2016, 12:28 AM

5. Thank you for this post.

With deep appreciation, rest in peace, Walter Kohn.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to NNadir (Original post)

Tue Jun 7, 2016, 01:25 AM

6. Hello there, NNadir

 

Believe it or not, I was recently thinking about you and the good old days back at the GOS. I for one really admired your work.

As to your sad news, Walter Kohn was a great man. He and my post doc supervisor were, not friends exactly but electronic structure theory was a small world back then and everybody knew everybody else and a great deal of important work was done. Now the giants are departing and I fear that we will not see their like again.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to alain2112 (Reply #6)

Tue Jun 7, 2016, 08:26 AM

8. Thanks for your kind words, Alain...

It's very interesting about how your career intersected with that of Kohn.

I hope you are wrong about "not seeing their like again." The next generation faces awful hurdles we cannot imagine, but I hope against hope that good science will continue.

You may be interested, if you're not already familiar with it, in Emily Carter's work; she's been kicked upstairs and is now Dean of Engineering at Princeton, but she's been working on some very interesting work on high energy interactions of neutrons with matter, albeit in the chimeric quest for fusion:

Carter, Journal of Materials Research / Volume 25 / Issue 02 / 2010, pp 315-327

It's nice to know, as we think of the great work of Kohn, who might have easily been spit cruelly our of the world with no regard for who he became, that someone still thinks about me.

But I'm small potatoes.

Thanks again.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to NNadir (Reply #8)

Tue Jun 7, 2016, 01:10 PM

9. Small world indeed

 

Emily and I met back in the nineties, and I recall that she did some clever work with pure DFT on aluminum alloys. Thanks for the news (to me) that she not only moved to Princeton but evidently has been quite successful there.

I have always said that funerals are for the living, they motivate us to reach out and touch people. Walter would have approved. Some people in this world are cruel, too cruel, so I like to see reminders of the good people out there.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to alain2112 (Reply #9)

Tue Jun 7, 2016, 08:35 PM

10. She's a very big deal here. Her PNAS paper at the time of her election to the NAS changed my life.

...Well my intellectual life anyway.

I'm referring to this one: Atomic-scale insight and design principles for turbine engine thermal barrier coatings from theory

I had been reading about refractory "super" alloys for a number of years in connection with certain ideas I had, and am embarrassed to say that I knew basically nothing about thermal barrier coatings. At the time I was working near the university and it was convenient for me to drop into lectures at the Andlinger Center, usually in the late afternoon, where I made myself something of a pain in the ass by asking a lot of questions, some of them designed to question the idea that so called "renewable energy" would save the day. Dr. Carter seldom asked questions, and when she did, they were relatively simple.

I didn't even realize she was the director. But since I was making myself a guest, perhaps a dubiously welcome guest, I decided to learn more about the organization, and then looked into the publication record of Dr. Carter, which is where I encountered the thermal barrier coating paper. Somehow wandering around that concept in the literature after reading her paper led me to a consideration of MAX phases, and other hybrid refractory systems, and the general subject of heat transfer, about which I actually didn't think all that much, not being an engineer. And I'll be honest, over the years I've had something of a tendency to kind of gloss over materials science issues. All the papers I've left up on the computer, and electronic monographs I left as well, while I tried to heal my ignorance of materials science may have had something to do with my son's interest in materials science; so it wasn't nearly as useless as some of my other speculations.

He had something to do with the fact that my screen saver is now a depiction of the Bravais lattices.

Here are two lectures available on line by Dr. Carter: Science on Saturday: The Road to a Sustainable Energy Future

COLLOQUIUM: Assessing First Wall Materials at the Atomic Scale and Energy Writ Large at Princeton

(Those folks at PPPL have a big materials science problem, even if they can get the ITER up and running...I've had some interesting discussions over there on that topic; it would appear that they might be straight up SiC kind of guys, although one guy told me that they have tested some materials up to 100 dpa, although I'm guessing its not with neutrons at 14.1 MeV. To their credit, they'll plainly confess their problem if you ask them.)

The first lecture is from the wonderful "Science on Saturday" series which is supposed to be designed for high school students; my family tries to catch as many as they can. (They are, um, often not at a high school level, but nobody cares, since basically, the series is wonderful.) I would note that I do not agree with some of her comments and conclusions in this talk; and I didn't get called on to ask a question, probably because of the questions I've asked at the Andlinger Center.

The second is a straight up scientific lecture in the PPPL colloquium series which is interesting in its own right, and open to the public.

The Andlinger Center is now led, since Dr. Carter was kicked upstairs, by Dr. Lynn Loo, another wonderful scientist. Here is a lecture by her on Science on Saturday on "plastic electronics" Plastic Electronics Nice organic chemistry, to be sure, but I shutter to think of people trying to industrialize that stuff.

One of the questions at the end of the lecture, the one on the long term availability of indium tin oxide is my son. That's my boy!

Reading between the lines of your comments - and you're a DFT expert whereas I am merely a dilettante - I'm guessing that the scientist for who you did a post doc was once honored with a Festshrift in the Journal of Chemical Theory and Computing. Am I right? (I'll perfectly understand if you don't want to answer.)

Anyway, thanks for your comments. It's been a real pleasure to chat.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to NNadir (Reply #10)

Wed Jun 8, 2016, 09:34 PM

11. Very Clever!

 

Last edited Wed Jun 8, 2016, 10:22 PM - Edit history (1)

And I see you understand, that I think it wise to be a little cagey about my full identity IRL.

You must be quite proud of your son, and I wish him all success.

Stay interesting, kind sir.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to NNadir (Original post)

Tue Jun 7, 2016, 02:03 AM

7. RIP to a Great Man

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread