Dr. John W. Cahn, 1928-2016

March 16, 2016

We are greatly saddened to learn of the death of Dr. John W. Cahn, a former faculty member in this department. Dr. Cahn was a brilliant scientist and a great friend and mentor to many in the field of materials science and engineering.

The following is drawn from an announcement from his family:

Dr. Cahn was born in Germany in 1928 but fled as a child shortly after Hitler's rise to power. After several years living in Holland, he immigrated to America at age 11. After serving in the army of occupation in Japan, he graduated from the University of Michigan and went to graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley, where he met and married his wife, Anne. While earning his PhD in Chemistry under Richard Powell he met Cyril Stanley Smith who became his mentor and enticed him to switch fields to metallurgy and come to the University of Chicago.

Dr. Cahn had a profound effect on metallurgy, rising quickly to become one of its preeminent theoreticians.  He worked for General Electric at the research lab in Schenectady from 1952 to 1964, then taught at MIT until 1976 when he joined the National Bureau of Standards (later renamed the National Institute of Standards and Technology). He won numerous awards for his discoveries including: the Kyoto Prize, the Bower Prize, the National Medal of Science, the Michelson-Morley Award, and the Harvey Prize. He modestly claimed that he became famous by applying nineteenth century ideas to an eighteenth century craft in the twentieth century. 

He leaves his wife, three children and their families, and his sister Anne and her extended family.

In lieu of a memorial service, please consider making a donation to the charity of your choice in Dr. Cahn's honor. If possible, please consider donating blood; near-weekly transfusions kept him alive this past year.

Among Dr. Cahn's many contributions to materials science are the Allen-Cahn and the Cahn-Hilliard equations. He often visited our department and gave seminars, most recently the W. David Kingery Memorial Lecture, and shared his insights and perspectives on research with faculty and students. 

News Categories: