“Einstein, stop telling God what to do,” physicist Niels Bohr once told Albert Einstein, who in a room full of the world’s most notable scientific minds argued “God does not play dice.”
In 1927, Einstein and Bohr were two of the 29 scientists (more than half of whom were or would later become Nobel Prize recipients) in attendance at the Fifth Solvay Institut International de Physique in Brussels to discuss the foundations of the newly formed quantum theory.
Curie, the only woman in attendance, was also the only one among them to win a Nobel Prize in two separate disciplines: chemistry and physics.
The Solvay Conferences (French: Conseils Solvay) have been devoted to outstanding preeminent open problems in both physics and chemistry. They began with the historic invitation-only 1911 Solvay Conference on Physics, considered a turning point in the world of physics, and continue to the present day.
Following the initial success of 1911, they have since been organised by the International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry, founded by the Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay in 1912 and 1913, and located in Brussels. The institutes coordinate conferences, workshops, seminars, and colloquia. Recent Solvay Conferences usually go through a three year cycle: the Solvay Conference on Physics, followed by a gap year, followed by the Solvay Conference on Chemistry.
Notable Solvay conferences
Hendrik Lorentz was chairman of the first Solvay Conference on Physics, held in Brussels from 30 October to 3 November 1911. 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 were experts including Marie Curie and Henri Poincaré (see image for attendee list).
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.
The third Solvay Conference on Physics 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. 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.
Perhaps the most famous conference was the fifth Solvay Conference on Physics; held from 24 to 29 October 1927, the subject was Electrons and Photons, and 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. Attendees Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac, and Erwin Schrödinger would be listed among the top ten greatest physicists of all-time, in a 1999 poll of leading physicists for Physics World magazine.
Solvay conferences on physics
|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 (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)|