Solvay Conference

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The International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry, located in Brussels, were founded by the Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay in 1912, following the historic invitation-only 1911 Conference, considered a turning point in the world of physics. The Institutes coordinate conferences, workshops, seminars, and colloquia.[1]

Following the initial success of 1911, the Solvay Conferences (French: Conseils Solvay) have been devoted to outstanding preeminent open problems in both physics and chemistry. The usual schedule is every three years, but there have been larger gaps.

Notable Solvay Conferences[edit]

First Conference[edit]

Hendrik Lorentz was chairman of the first Solvay Conference held in Brussels from 30 October to 3 November 1911.[2] The subject was Radiation and the Quanta. This conference looked at the problems of having two approaches, namely classical physics and quantum theory. Albert Einstein was the second youngest physicist present (the youngest one was Lindemann). Other members of the Solvay Congress included such luminaries as Marie Curie and Henri Poincaré (see image for attendee list).

Third Conference[edit]

The Third Solvay Conference was held in April 1921, soon after World War I. Most German scientists were barred from attending. In protest at this action, Albert Einstein, himself a citizen and a vocal supporter of the infant Weimar Republic, declined his invitation to attend the conference where most of his countrymen were barred. However, the real reason of Einstein's absence is because he accepted the invitation by Dr. Chaim Weizmann for a trip to the United States.[3]

Fifth Conference[edit]

Perhaps the most famous conference was the Fifth Solvay Conference on Electrons and Photons held from 24 to 29 October 1927, where the world's most notable physicists met to discuss the newly formulated quantum theory. The leading figures were Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. 17 of the 29 attendees were or became Nobel Prize winners, including Marie Curie, who alone among them, had won Nobel Prizes in two separate scientific disciplines.[4]

Auguste PiccardÉmile Henriot (chemist)Paul EhrenfestÉdouard HerzenThéophile de DonderErwin SchrödingerJules-Émile VerschaffeltWolfgang PauliWerner HeisenbergR.H. FowlerLéon BrillouinPeter DebyeMartin KnudsenLawrence BraggHendrik Anthony KramersPaul DiracArthur ComptonLouis, 7th duc de BroglieMax BornNiels BohrIrving LangmuirMax PlanckMarie CurieHendrik LorentzAlbert EinsteinPaul LangevinCharles Eugene GuyeCharles Thomson Rees WilsonOwen Willans RichardsonA. Piccard, E. Henriot, P. Ehrenfest, E. Herzen, Th. De Donder, E. Schrödinger, J.E. Verschaffelt, W. Pauli, W. Heisenberg, R.H. Fowler, L. Brillouin; P. Debye, M. Knudsen, W.L. Bragg, H.A. Kramers, P.A.M. Dirac, A.H. Compton, L. de Broglie, M. Born, N. Bohr; I. Langmuir, M. Planck, M. Curie, H.A. Lorentz, A. Einstein, P. Langevin, Ch. E. Guye, C.T.R. Wilson, O.W. Richardson Fifth conference participants, 1927. Institut International de Physique Solvay in Leopold Park. Image
A. Piccard, E. Henriot, P. Ehrenfest, E. Herzen, Th. de Donder, E. Schrödinger, J. E. Verschaffelt, W. Pauli, W. Heisenberg, R. H. Fowler, L. Brillouin;

P. Debye, M. Knudsen, W.L. Bragg, H. A. Kramers, P. A. M. Dirac, A. H. Compton, L. de Broglie, M. Born, N. Bohr;
I. Langmuir, M. Planck, M. Curie, H.A . Lorentz, A. Einstein, P. Langevin, Ch.-E. Guye, C. T. R. Wilson, O. W. Richardson

Fifth conference participants, 1927. Institut International de Physique Solvay in Leopold Park.

Solvay Conferences on Physics[edit]

No Year Title Translation Chair
1 1911 La théorie du rayonnement et les quanta The theory of radiation and quanta Hendrik Lorentz (Leiden)
2 1913 La structure de la matière The structure of matter
3 1921 Atomes et électrons Atoms and electrons
4 1924 Conductibilité électrique des métaux et problèmes connexes Electric conductivity of metals and related problems
5 1927 Electrons et photons Electrons and photons
6 1930 Le magnétisme Magnetism Paul Langevin (Paris)
7 1933 Structure et propriétés des noyaux atomiques Structure & properties of the atomic nucleus
8 1948 Les particules élémentaires Elementary particles Lawrence Bragg (Cambridge)
9 1951 L'état solide The solid state
10 1954 Les électrons dans les métaux Electrons in metals
11 1958 La structure et l'évolution de l'univers The structure and evolution of the universe
12 1961 La théorie quantique des champs Quantum field theory
13 1964 The Structure and Evolution of Galaxies J. Robert Oppenheimer (Princeton)
14 1967 Fundamental Problems in Elementary Particle Physics Christian Møller (Copenhagen)
15 1970 Symmetry Properties of Nuclei Edoardo Amaldi (Rome)
16 1973 Astrophysics and Gravitation
17 1978 Order and Fluctuations in Equilibrium and Nonequilibrium Statistical Mechanics Léon Van Hove (CERN)
18 1982 Higher Energy Physics
19 1987 Surface Science F. W. de Wette (Austin)
20 1991 Quantum Optics Paul Mandel (Brussels)
21 1998 Dynamical Systems and Irreversibility Ioannis Antoniou [5] (Brussels)
22 2001 The Physics of Communication
23 2005 The Quantum Structure of Space and Time David Gross (Santa Barbara)
24 2008 Quantum Theory of Condensed Matter Bertrand Halperin (Harvard)
25 2011 The theory of the quantum world David Gross
26 2014 Astrophysics and Cosmology Roger Blandford (Stanford)
27 2017 The physics of living matter: Space, time and information in biology Boris Shraiman (Santa Barbara)

Conferences on Physics gallery[edit]

Solvay Conferences on Chemistry[edit]

No Year Title Translation Chair
1 1922 Cinq Questions d'Actualité Five topical questions William Jackson Pope (Cambridge)
2 1925 Structure et Activité Chimique Structure and Chemical Activity
3 1928 Questions d'Actualité Topical Questions
4 1931 Constitution et Configuration des Molécules Organiques Constitution and Configuration of Organic Molecules
5 1934 L'Oxygène, ses réactions chimiques et biologiques Oxygen, and its chemical and biological reactions.
6 1937 Les vitamines et les Hormones Vitamins and Hormones Frédéric Swarts (Ghent)
7 1947 Les Isotopes Isotopes Paul Karrer (Zurich)
8 1950 Le Mécanisme de l'Oxydation The mechanism of oxidation
9 1953 Les Protéines Proteins
10 1956 Quelques Problèmes de Chimie Minérale Some Problems of Inorganic Chemistry
11 1959 Les Nucléoprotéines Nucleoproteins Alfred Ubbelohde (London)
12 1962 Transfert d'Energie dans les Gaz Energy transfer in gases
13 1965 Reactivity of the Photoexcited Organic Molecule
14 1969 Phase Transitions
15 1970 Electrostatic Interactions and Structure of Water
16 1976 Molecular Movements and Chemical Reactivity as conditioned by Membranes, Enzymes and other Molecules
17 1980 Aspects of Chemical Evolution
18 1983 Design and Synthesis of Organic Molecules Based on Molecular Recognition Ephraim Katchalski (Rehovot) & Vladimir Prelog (Zurich)
19 1987 Surface Science F. W. de Wette (Austin)
20 1995 Chemical Reactions and their Control on the Femtosecond Time Scale Pierre Gaspard (Brussels)
21 2007 From Noncovalent Assemblies to Molecular Machines Jean-Pierre Sauvage (Strasbourg)
22 2010 Quantum Effects in Chemistry and Biology Graham Fleming (Berkeley)
23 2013 New Chemistry and New Opportunities from the Expanding Protein Universe Kurt Wüthrich (ETH Zurich)
24 2016 Catalysis in Chemistry and Biology Kurt Wüthrich (ETH Zurich) & Robert Grubbs (Caltech, USA)
25 2019 Computational Modeling: From Chemistry to Materials to Biology Kurt Wüthrich (ETH Zurich) & Bert Weckhuysen (Utrecht U., The Netherlands)

Conferences on Chemistry gallery[edit]


  1. ^ Welcome to the Solvay Institutes
  2. ^ Paul Langevin and Maurice de Broglie, eds., La théorie du rayonnement et les quanta. Rapports et discussions de la réunion tenue à Bruxelles, du 30 octobre au 3 novembre 1911, sous les auspices de M. E. Solvay. Paris: Gauthier-Villars, 1912. See also: The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Vol. 3: Writings 1909–1911, Doc. 26, p. 402 (English translation supplement).
  3. ^ Isaacson, Walter (2007). Einstein: His life and universe. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  4. ^ Lorentz & the Solvay conferences, Instituut-Lorentz, Leiden University
  5. ^

Further reading[edit]

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