7727.- Conferencia de Solvay 1927

Is this the greatest meeting of minds ever? Einstein and Curie among SEVENTEEN nobel prize winners at historic conference

By Elizabeth Ashworth
UPDATED:07:08 GMT, 16 June 2011

It would be hard to imagine a more intelligent and brilliant group of people, let alone all these great minds in the same room together.

However this was the case in 1927 when Einstein and his venerable colleagues gathered at the Solvay Conference on Electrons and Photons in Brussels.

The International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry was founded by the Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay in 1912, following the historic invitation-only 1911 Conseil Solvay, the first world physics conference.

Great minds think alike

Back row L-R: A Piccard, E Henriot, P Ehrenfest, Ed Herzen, Th. De Donder, E Schroedinger, E Verschaffelt, W Pauli, W Heisenberg, R. H Fowler, L Brillouin
Middle row L-R: P Debye, M Knudsen, W. L Bragg, H. A Kramers. P. A. M Dirac, A. H Compton, L. V. De Broglie, M Born, N Bohr
Front row: L-R: Angmeir, M Planck, M Curie, H. A Lorentz, A Einstein, P Langevin, Ch. E Guye, C. T. R Wilson, O. W Richardson

Since then some of the greatest scientists in the world have come together about every three years to discuss the most perplexing problems in both physics and chemistry.

The most famous conference was the October 1927 Fifth Solvay International Conference on Electrons and Photons, where the world’s most notable physicists met to discuss the newly formulated quantum theory.

The leading figures were Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. Einstein, disenchanted with Heisenberg’s 'Uncertainty Principle,' remarked 'God does not play dice.' Bohr, who won his Nobel prize in 1922. replied, 'Einstein, stop telling God what to do.'


This was not the only squabble between Einstein and Bohr however, as the two interpretations of the laws of physics was a great source of controversy between the pair. More recent research published in the academic journal, Physical Review Letters, has shown Bohr's theory to be the stronger of the two.


Danish physicist Niels Bohr, who had many squabbles with Einstein over the yearsOne in a million: Einstein's memory has lived on for many years, thanks to the great work he achieved 

Neils Bohr (left) and Einstein were reported to have had a lot of disagreements over their work, including a squabble where Bohr snapped 'Einstein, stop telling God what to do'

Despite Bohr's obvious talent and immense intelligence, Einstein is still a lot more well known. 'You don't need to be Einstein to work that out' is a common saying still used, whereas Bohr is not nearly as much of a household name.

Einstein received his Nobel Prize in 1922 also, 'for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect'. However the Nobel Committee for Physics decided that none of the year’s nominations met the criteria as outlined in the will of Alfred Nobel.

According to the Nobel Foundation's statutes, the Nobel Prize can in such a case be reserved until the following year, and this statute was then applied.

Seventeen of the twenty-nine attendees were or became Nobel Prize winners, including Marie Curie, who is not hard to spot as the only woman in the photograph.

The charity Marie Curie Cancer is one of the biggest cancer charities in the country, which began in 1948 when committee members decided to preserve the Marie Curie name in the charitable medical field.

Marie Curie had won Nobel Prizes in two separate scientific disciplines.

Also among the distinguished panel was Erwin Schrodinger. Eight years after this group photograph was taken he devised his famous quantum theory called Schrodinger’s Cat.

This suggested something could exist in two different states at the same time until it was observed.

In the experiment, Schrodinger proposed the idea of a cat left in a box with a radioactive substance, which had a 50 per cent chance of decaying and releasing a poison, thus killing the cat within an hour.

Because there is also a 50 per cent chance the substance would not decay, and thus not release the poison, quantum mechanics dictate that the cat is neither alive, nor dead, until the box is opened for measurement.

Ground breaking: Marie Curie in 1903 at the time she was awarded her Nobel prize in Chemistry

Ground breaking: Marie Curie in 1903 at the time she was awarded her Nobel prize in Chemistry

Back row L-R

Auguste Picard

DOB: 28 January 1884 Nationality: Swiss Fact: Made record-breaking ascent to 53,152ft in a balloon and also designed submarines. Basis for character Professor Cuthbert Calculus in TinTin. Gene Roddenberry named the Star Trek captain Jean Luc Picard after him.

Émile Henriot

DOB: 2 July 1885 Nationality: French Fact:First to show definitely that potassium and rubidium are naturally radioactive.

Paul Ehrenfest

DOB: 18 January 1880 Nationality: Austrian Fact:Mathmetician who worked on statistical mechanics. In his final years he suffered severe depression. At one point Einstein was so worried that he wrote to the Board of the University of Leiden, suggesting ways to reduce Ehrenfest's workload.

Edouard Herzen

DOB: 1876 Nationality: French Fact: Paris-based artist with an interest in pscyhoanalysis. He was good friends with Sigmund Freud.

Théophile Ernest de Donder

DOB: 1872 Nationality: Belgian Fact:He is considered the father of thermodynamics of irreversible processes, and wrote several books.

Erwin Schrödinger

DOB: 12 August 1887Nationality: Austrian Fact:Conducted the famous experiment known as Schrödinger's cat, which postulated that something could exist in two states until it was observed.

Jules-Émile Verschaffelt

DOB: 27 January 1870 Nationality: Belgian Fact:He specialised in crystallography - the experimental science of the arrangement of atoms in solids.

Wolfgang Ernst Pauli

DOB: 25 April 1900 Nationality: Austrian Fact: Theoretical physicist who won a Nobel Prize in 1945 for his discovery of a new law of nature known as the exclusion principle. He had a severe breakdown following his divorce in 1930 and consulted psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung.

Werner Heisenberg

DOB: 5 December 1901 Nationality: German Fact: Awarded Nobel prize for physics in 1932. Best known for asserting the uncertainty principle in quantum theory. He was head of Germany's nuclear fusion research during World War Two.

Sir Ralph Howard Fowler

DOB: 17 January 1889 Nationality: English Fact: He worked as second in command working with the Experimental Department of HMS Excellent on Whale Island and made a major contribution on the aerodynamics of spinning shells, for which he was awarded an OBE in 1918.

Léon Nicolas Brillouin

DOB: August 7 1889 Nationality: French Fact: He contributed to quantum mechanics and radio wave propagation in the atmosphere.

Middle row L-R

Peter Joseph William Debye

DOB: March 24 1884 Nationality: Dutch Fact: Won theNobel prize for chemistry in 1936 for his study of molecular structure.

In January 2006, a book written by Sybe Rispens, alleged Debye had been actively involved in cleansing German science institutions of Jewish and other 'non-Aryan elements.'

Martin Hans Christian Knudsen

DOB: 15 February 1871 Nationality: Danish Fact:Knudsen was very active in physical oceanography, developing methods of defining properties of seawater.

Sir William Lawrence Bragg

DOB: 31 March 1890 Nationality: Australian Fact: He was joint winner with his father, Sir William Bragg, of the Nobel Prize for physics in 1915. He is most famous for his law on the diffraction of X-rays by crystals.

Hendrik Anthony Kramers

DOB: February 2 1894 Nationality: Dutch Fact:The physicist was one of the founders of the Mathematisch Centrum in Amsterdam. He won the Lorentz Medal in 1947 and Hughes Medal in 1951.

Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac

DOB: August 8 1902 Nationality: Dutch Fact:Dirac shared the Nobel Prize in physics for 1933 with Erwin Schrödinger, 'for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory.'

Arthur Holly Compton

DOB: September 10 1892 Nationality: American Fact:Along with being an academic his father was a Presbyterian clergyman. Won nobel prize in physics in 1927. Discovered Compton scattering - a type of scattering that X-rays and gamma rays undergo in matter.

Louis-Victor-Pierre-Raymond, 7th duc de Broglie

DOB: August 15 1892 Nationality: French Fact: In addition to strictly scientific work, de Broglie thought and wrote about the philosophy of science, including the value of modern scientific discoveries.

Max Born

DOB: December 11 1882 Nationality: German Fact:Born was one of the 11 signatories to the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. He is also the great-grandfather of the famous TV editor and percussionist Kip Thompson-Born.

Niels Henrik David Bohr

DOB: 7 October 1885 Nationality: Danish Fact:Bohr married Margrethe Nørlund in 1912, and one of their sons, Aage Bohr, grew up to be an important physicist who in 1975 also received the Nobel prize.

Front row L-R

Irving Langmuir

DOB: 31 January 1881 Nationality: American Fact:Langmuir was married to Marion Mersereau in 1912 with whom he adopted two children: Kenneth and Barbara. After a short illness, he died in Woods Hole, Massachusetts from a heart attack in 1957. His obituary ran on the front page of The New York Times.

Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck

DOB: 23 April 1858 Nationality: German Fact:Planck is a space observatory launched in 2009 was named after him. It is designed to observe the anisotropies of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) over the entire sky, using high sensitivity and angular resolution.

Marie Skłodowska Curie

DOB: 7 November 1867 Nationality: Polish Fact:While an actively loyal French citizen, Skłodowska–Curie (as she styled herself) never lost her sense of Polish identity. She taught her daughters the Polish language and took them on visits to Poland. She named the first chemical element that she discovered 'polonium' (1898) for her native country.

Hendrik Antoon Lorentz

DOB: 18 July 1853 Nationality: Dutch Fact: In addition to the Nobel prize, Lorentz received a great many honours for his outstanding work. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1905. The Society awarded him their Rumford Medal in 1908 and their Copley Medal in 1918.

Albert Einstein

DOB: 14 March 1879 Nationality: German Fact:Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers along with over 150 non-scientific works. His great intelligence and originality have made the word 'Einstein' synonymous with genius.

Paul Langevin

DOB: 23 January 1872 Nationality: French Fact:His daughter, Hélène Solomon-Langevin, was arrested for Resistance activity and survived several concentration camps. She was on the same convoy of female political prisoners as Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier and Charlotte Delbo.

Charles Eugene Guy

DOB: 1866 Nationality: Swiss Fact:Hisresearch focus was on the fieldof electric currents, magnetism, gas discharges. He was involved in Einstein’s work on the special theory of relativity.

Charles Thomson Rees Wilson

DOB: 14 February 1869 Nationality: Scottish Fact:The Wilson Condensation Cloud formations, occurring after a very large explosion (such as a nuclear detonation), are named after him.
The Wilson Society, the natural sciences society of Sidney Sussex College, is also named for him.

Sir Owen Willans Richardson

DOB: 26 April 1879 Nationality: English Fact: He demonstrated that the current from a heated wire seemed to depend exponentially on the temperature of the wire with a mathematical form similar to the Arrhenius equation.

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