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Walter Kohn Papers
UArch FacP 34  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access Restrictions
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Related Materials
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Walter Kohn papers
    Dates: ca. 1942-1998
    Bulk Dates: 1960-1995
    Collection number: UArch FacP 34
    Creator: Kohn, Walter, 1923-
    Collection Size: 41.2 linear feet (104 boxes).
    Repository: University of California, Santa Barbara. Library. Dept. of Special Collections
    Santa Barbara, CA 93106
    Abstract: The Walter Kohn Papers contain materials related to the career of the Nobel Prize winning physicist Walter Kohn and is primarily comprised of physics-related research notes, professional travel files, and correspondence.
    Physical location: Del Sur, University Archives.
    Languages: English

    Access Restrictions

    Letters of Recommendation (Boxes 15-21) and Global Peace & Security student files (Box 56) contain confidential information are closed pending staff review.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Department of Special Collections, UCSB. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Special Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Department of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which also must be obtained.

    Preferred Citation

    Walter Kohn Papers. UArch FacP 34. Department of Special Collections, Davidson Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.

    Acquisition Information

    Donations by W. Kohn, 2002 & 2003.


    Walter Kohn is a Professor Emeritus of Physics at UCSB, with an emphasis in theoretical physics. On October 13, 1998 he was awarded half of the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his development of the density-functional theory.
    Kohn was born on March 9, 1923 to Jewish parents in Vienna, Austria. He lived for a year and a half under the Austrian Nazi regime until he fled as a refugee first to England in 1939 and later to Canada in 1940. Both of his parents, unable to leave Austria, became victims of the Holocaust. Throughout his life he has maintained a strong Jewish identity and he was instrumental in the establishment of the Judaic Studies program at UC San Diego. He also has been involved in social justice issues, including participating in the American Physical Society's Committee on the International Freedom of Scientists which petitions foreign governments and fellow scientists to end the persecution of scientists.
    He attended University of Toronto from 1942 to 1945 where he received his undergraduate degree in mathematics and physics and his graduate degree in applied mathematics. During 1945-46, between his studies for the two degrees, he also completed a year of service in the Canadian Infantry, fighting in the last year of World War II. He then attended Harvard where he was awarded a PhD in physics in 1948. After graduation Kohn accepted his first position at Harvard as an instructor of physics.
    In 1950 Kohn was offered a position at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) where he would work for the next ten years. While at Carnegie Mellon his research focused on Bloch electrons and semiconductor physics. Before starting, however, he was awarded a National Research Council fellowship and as a result postponed his appointment for two years to do research in Copenhagen. This would be the first of many temporary research positions he would hold abroad. He also later worked for months at a time in Tel Aviv, Israel; Les Houches, France; and Zurich, Switzerland; among other countries. During the last few weeks before beginning at Carnegie, Kohn was invited to work under the direction of Robert Oppenheimer at Princeton to finish his project begun in Copenhagen. During the summers of 1953 and 1954 Kohn also worked at Bell Labs doing research in solid state physics.
    Kohn's career with the University of California began in 1960 when he left Carnegie to begin working at UC San Diego. It was while at UCSD that he began his work on density functional theory.
    Kohn was invited in 1979 to come to UC Santa Barbara to assist in the establishment of the Institute of Theoretical Physics at UCSB, now known as the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics, and to work as its founding director. Here he would continue his work on density functional theory and other subjects. He held this position until 1984 when he became a full time professor in UCSB's Department of Physics. He has been a Professor Emeritus since 1991.
    Also noteworthy is that throughout his life Kohn has been an outspoken advocate of peace and has opposed the use of nuclear weapons. Throughout the Cold War he worked towards US-Soviet nuclear disarmament. He was on the faculty advisory committee for the Global Peace and Security Program at UCSB and the affiliated Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation. He actively advocated, although unsuccessfully, for the removal of the University of California as manager of Lawrence-Livermore National Laboratories. Kohn was also was a consultant for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, based out of Santa Barbara.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Walter Kohn Papers contain materials related to the career of the Nobel Prize winning physicist Walter Kohn and are primarily comprised of physics-related research notes, professional travel files, and correspondence. Also included are files related to Kohn's other professional interests, including Peace and Security Studies and Judaic Studies, as well as class notes from his student days and research-related reprints of articles written by other scientists.


    The collection contains the following series:
    • Autobiographical and bibliographical materials, including day planners from 1980-1984. (Box 1)
    Correspondence (Arranged in loose chronological order)
    Correspondence, incoming and outgoing combined, ca.1950-1996 (Boxes 1-14)
    Primarily professional correspondence, including a substantial amount of interoffice mail, with some personal correspondence intermixed. Also includes drafts of public letters/statements as well as some clippings and miscellaneous ephemera related to correspondence. Some travel related materials are included as well in relation to correspondence. Some correspondence is also interspersed in professional files.
    Letters of Recommendation, 1979-1998 (Boxes 15-21)
    Letters and related documents primarily recommending students and colleagues for new positions. Closed pending review; contains confidential information.
    Class Notes (Lecture notes)
    • Undergraduate, 1942-1944 (Box 22)
    • Graduate, 1945-1950 (Box 23)
    Research (includes some reprints of scientific articles by others)
    • Contracts and Grants, 1983-1998 (Boxes 24-28)
    • General Research, ca. 1950s (Boxes 29-33)
    • Bloch Electrons, 1958-1959 (Box 34)
    • General Research, 1960-1972 (Boxes 35-39)
    • Quasicrystals, 1987-1988 (includes some related correspondence) (Box 40)
    Professional Files (Arranged chronologically)
    • Files related to professional involvement in both the Physics Department and other departments on campus, as well as involvement in professional organizations.
    Professional Lecture Notes (See above for Class Notes)
    Taken, 1952-1960 (Box 41)

    Given, 1952-1959, 1976 (Box 42)
    Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), 1968-1978 (Box 43)
    Judaic Studies Files, 1972-1978 (Boxes 44-47)
    Files from the development of the Judaic Studies program at UCSD.
    General Files, 1978-1986 (Boxes 48-51)
    Kohn's alphabetical file related to professional activities. Also includes related correspondence. Includes records from the Institute of Theoretical Physics and the National Academy of Sciences.
    Global Peace and Security (GPS), 1984-1993 (Boxes 52-61)
    Includes information about Kohn's involvement as well as general program information.

    Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC), 1983-1987

    Part of the GPS Department. Also includes information from his participation in the chancellor search committee of 1986 which resulted in the hiring of Barbara Uehling.
    General Files, 1987-1992 (Boxes 62-64)
    Includes files on USA/USSR Faculty Exchange Program and Direct Relief International assistance in St. Petersburg that Kohn assisted in organizing.
    Trip Files, 1984-1997 (Arranged chronologically. Records from older trips were not separated by Kohn and are interspersed in professional files.) (Boxes 65-98)
    • Includes correspondence, trip planning notes, meeting notes, itineraries, article reprints, written reports, expense reports and ephemera (postcards, university brochures, maps, etc.) primarily related to business travel locally, nationally, and internationally. Some photographs are included with post-visit correspondence. Some records also related to personal travel between business trips and on sabbaticals and on cancelled travel plans.
    Writings by Others (Boxes 99-104)
    • Reprints of Articles (arranged alphabetically)
    • Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Pamphlets, 1984-1992

    Related Materials

    Resources in Special Collections
    • Walter Kohn: personal stories and anecdotes told by friends and collaborators, edited by Matthias Scheffler & Peter Weinberger. (Special Collections QC16.K636 W35 2003)
    Resources in the Davidson Library
    • Film Reflections of a physicist after an encounter with the Vatican and Pope John Paul II by Kohn (Media Collection BL241 .K596 2001)
    • Many of Kohn's articles can be retrieved through our databases, such as INSPEC or Web of Science.
    Relevant Websites

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Kohn, Walter, 1923-
    University of California, Santa Barbara. Dept. of Physics
    Solid-state physics.
    Density functionals.