UC San Diego SearchMenu

From sub-atomic to astronomical scales, we are working on the frontiers of science. A tradition of bridging boundaries has allowed us to probe fundamental questions at the intersections of different branches of science and mathematics and to create new fields of study. Because mathematics and the physical sciences are fundamental to many pursuits, including engineering, medicine and biology, we contribute to the education of most undergraduate students at UC San Diego.

Recent News

In Memoriam: Walter Kohn 1923-2016

walterkohnWalter Kohn, one of the founding faculty members of the Department of Physics at UC San Diego who received the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry while a professor at UC Santa Barbara, died at his home in Santa Barbara of cancer on April 19. He was 93.

Kohn came to the newly founded UC San Diego campus as a physics professor in 1960 after working for a decade at Carnegie Mellon University. He served as chair of physics from 1961 to 1963 and left the La Jolla campus in 1979 to accept a position at UC Santa Barbara as the founding director of what is now called the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. He remained at UC Santa Barbara as an emeritus professor and research professor until his death.

Supported by the National Science Foundation, the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics brings leading scientists from around the world to work on major problems in theoretical physics and related fields. In 1994, the building that houses the institute was named Kohn Hall in his honor.

A condensed matter theorist, Kohn made seminal contributions to the understanding of the electronic structure of materials and played the leading role in the development of the density functional theory, which has revolutionized scientists' approach to the electronic structure of atoms, molecules and solid materials in physics, chemistry and materials science.

He also made major contributions to the physics of semiconductors, superconductivity, surface physics and catalysis. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Kohn was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1988 and the Niels Bohr gold medal from the United Nations in 1998.

Benjamin Grinstein, chair of UC San Diego’s Department of Physics, said Kohn had one of the most profound impacts on the field of physics over the past century.

“A study of citations from all Physical Review journals for the 110-year period 1893 until 2003 shows the paper by Kohn and our own Lu Sham (an emeritus physics professor at UC San Diego) to be the top cited paper and the one ranked highest in citation impact, and the paper by Hohenberg and Kohn as the second most cited paper and ranked second in citation impact,” he added. “In fact, Walter authored five of the 100 papers with highest citation impact.”

More specifically, said Grinstein, “Kohn started work on density functional theory during a visit with Pierre Hohenberg to the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Then Walter and Lu expanded on that work to produce the now famous Kohn-Sham equations. The latter is the standard work horse of modern materials science, and even used in quantum theories of plasmas.”

On March 31, the UC San Diego Physics Department held its annual Memorial Lecture on a topic chosen to honor the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Kohn-Sham paper

In Memoriam: Ami E. Berkowitz


Ami E. Berkowitz, a research professor in UC San Diego’s Department of Physics and Center for Memory and Recording Research, died on March 31, 2016 of heart failure. He was 89.

Berkowitz received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1953. He was employed by the Franklin Institute Laboratories in Philadelphia from 1947 to 1960 where he was manager of the Magnetism and Thermoelectricity Division. He was with IBM from 1960 to 1968, initially at the Research Laboratory at Yorktown Heights, NY, and then as manager of the Materials Branch at the Components Division in Burlington, VT. From 1968 to 1986, Berkowitz was at the General Electric R&D Center in Schenectady, NY. There, he was active in electron beam addressed memories, thermomagnetic recording, magnetic tagging, magnetic printing, magnetic surface phenomena, amorphous and crystalline particles, and the development of spark erosion method for particle production.

In 1986, he came to UC San Diego as a professor in the Physics Department with an endowed chair, and to CMRR to establish the materials group. After retiring, he continued as a research professor at CMRR and the Physics Department. Berkowitz published extensively in the scientific and patent literature and with E. Kneller co-edited "Magnetism and Metallurgy," published by Academic Press.  He also gave many invited talks, and was been twice appointed a Distinguished Lecturer for the IEEE Magnetics Society and, in 1997, he was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

He is survived by his wife, Alice Berkowitz; two sons, Barney and Jon Berkowitz; daughter Dana Berkowitz; and three grandchildren

Structures associated with memory sprout in response to drug candidates

Chemists at UC San Diego have designed a set of molecules that promote microscopic, anatomical changes in neurons associated with the formation and retention of memories.

These drug candidates also prevent deterioration of the same neuronal structures in the presence of amyloid-beta, a protein fragment that accumulates in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.

Breathing is a rhythm for life, and more

Respiration is more than just an essential rhythm for life. A new study by Martin Deschênes and David Kleinfeld, a professor of physics, has found that rhythmic neural patterns that control breathing also coordinate movements of muscles on the mouth and face that serve a variety of sensory, ingestive and social behaviors.

Circuits that control breathing are essential to coordinating other motor activity, such as whisking and sniffing, across the right and left sides of the body, they report in the journal Neuron, and inhibition by that same breathing circuit controls other motions by rhythmic suppression. 

Math professor named fellow of prestigious society

Michael Holst, a professor of mathematics and physics has been named a 2016 Fellow of the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Holst, who holds a UC San Diego Chancellor’s Associates Endowed Chair, is being honored “for contributions to computational biology, numerical relativity and scientific computation.” He is an author and reviewer and has served on many of the editorial boards for the society’s journals.

Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust Gives $125,000 for Sally Ride Scholarship

Long after her first flight into space, the late astronaut Sally Ride remained dedicated to science education and protecting the environment. Now, a new scholarship at the University of California, San Diego will help continue her legacy by supporting the next generation of Earth’s stewards. The Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust has made a $125,000 gift to establish the Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust Endowed Scholarship for the Advancement of Women in Science in Honor of Dr. Sally Ride.

How Hydra opens its mouth

A team of biologists and physicists at UC San Diego has uncovered in detail the dynamic process that allows the multi-tentacle Hydra, a tiny freshwater animal distantly related to the sea anemone, to open and close its mouth.

The researchers report their findings in the current issue of Biophysical Journal. They say their discovery not only solves a long-standing puzzle of how Hydra feeds, but also enabled them to address a complex phenomenon in a living animal using relatively simple physics.

More news