Number 397 (Story #2), October 16, 1998 by Phillip F. Schewe and Ben Stein|
THE 1998 NOBEL PRIZE FOR CHEMISTRY goes to Walter Kohn of the University of California at Santa Barbara and John A. Pople of Northwestern University for their contributions toward establishing computational chemistry. The Nobel citation quoted P.A.M. Dirac to the effect that although the basic quantum laws governing large parts of physics and chemistry are known, progress will still be obstructed by the fact that the pertinent equations are too difficult to solve. Kohn's solution was "density-functional theory," which describes atomic and molecular bonding not by accounting for the motions of all the participating electrons, but rather by specifying the effective density of electrons, making the whole problem much more computationally tractable. Pople wrote a number of computer programs over the years combining new quantum chemistry insights with the increasing power of computers. Both Kohn and Pople are as much physicist as chemist. Kohn was head of the Institute of Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara for 1979-1984.