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John W. Cahn
Born (1928-01-09)9 January 1928
Died 14 March 2016(2016-03-14)

John Werner Cahn (January 9, 1928 – March 14, 2016) was an American scientist and recipient of the 1998 National Medal of Science. Born in Cologne, Weimar Germany, he was a professor in the department of metallurgy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1964 to 1978. From 1977, he held a position at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (formerly the National Bureau of Standards). Cahn had a profound influence on the course of materials research during his career. One of foremost authorities on thermodynamics, Cahn applied the basic laws of thermodynamics to describe and predict a wide range of physical phenomena.


Hans Werner Cahn was born in Cologne, Germany, to a Jewish family. His father was an anti-Nazi lawyer and his mother an X-ray technician.

When in 1933, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, the family fled and eventually ended up in Amsterdam. They emigrated to America in 1939, where Hans became John. Most of his family back in Europe perished in the Holocaust.

The Cahns settled in New York City. John Cahn became an American citizen in 1945. Serving in the United States Army, he was stationed in Japan during its occupation by the Allies.

Cahn received a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1949 from the University of Michigan. He later earned a Ph.D in physical chemistry in 1953 from the University of California at Berkeley. In 1954, Cahn joined the chemical metallurgy research effort at the General Electric laboratory in Schenectady, New York.

In 1964, Cahn became a professor in the Department of Metallurgy (now Materials Science) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He left MIT in 1978.

In his retirement, Cahn accepted a position at the University of Washington in 1984 as an affiliate professor in the Departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Physics.

He had three children and six grandsons. In retirement, he lived in Seattle, Washington, with his wife, Anne Hessing Cahn. He died from leukemia in Seattle on March 14, 2016.

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