The spirit of Ernest Solvay is still alive and well in 2019

It won’t make the front page of the newspapers, but a conference of scientists is currently being held in Brussels. Although this year’s theme – string theory – is rather abstract for us, it has attracted prestigious names such as David Gross, winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics, Kurt Wüthrich, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Lars Brink, former Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics, and François Englert, Belgian winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The first Conference was held in 1911 at the Hôtel Métropole on the initiative of chemist, industrialist and patron Ernest Solvay. It brought together the greatest researchers of the time – Marie Curie, Henri Poincaré, Ernest Rutherford and Albert Einstein – to discuss the subject of “The Theory of Radiation and the Quanta”.


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It was an opportunity for in-depth discussions about atoms, rays, black bodies and more. In 1913, they met at the Physics Institute founded by Solvay in 1912, but the war put a stop to the meetings; the Germans were excluded in 1921 and 1924, and even Einstein, who was known for his pacifism, was not invited. Science continued to progress and when Einstein returned in 1927 and 1930, he shook his peers by being unable to admit that “God plays dice” and forced them to take their deliberations further, further strengthening quantum theory.

These conferences have taken place in a three-year cycle since the Second World War: the Physics Conference, a year without a Conference and then a Chemistry Conference. And for 65 years, they have been possible thanks to the moral and financial support of Mrs Mimi Solvay.

This is another relatively unknown fact about the great names that make our country famous.