Born: 9 March 1923, Vienna, Austria
Died: 19 April 2016, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Prize motivation: "for his development of the density-functional theory"
Field: theoretical chemistry
Prize share: 1/2
The structures of molecules and the way they react with one another depends on the movement of electrons and their distribution in space, which is determined by the laws of quantum mechanics. However, quantum mechanics requires very complicated calculations for complex systems such as molecules. In 1964 Walter Kohn laid the foundation for a theory that stated it was not necessary to account for every electron's movement. Instead, one could look at the average density of electrons in the space. This presented new opportunities for calculations involving chemical structures and reactions.