Friday, February 1, 2013

Solvay Conference

The first half of the 20th century is considered as the most promising era in science, many great scientists arose during this period. The big names such as Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, Max Plank, Wolfgang Pauli, Ernest Rutherford, Hendrik Lorentz, Erwin Schrodniger came from that era. Solvay Conferences brought these scientists together. The picture on the right is from the famous conference in  1927 (later-colored). Most of the scientists in the picture are the noble prize winners.

Solvay Conference

Ernest Solvay (1838-1922) was a Belgian chemist and industrialist whose patents brought him considerable wealth, which he used to bankroll several philanthropic endeavors. He is also known as a founder of Sociology Institute (1894) and Solvay Business School (1903) at the University of Brussels.

The most notable, in 1911, he established the prestigious meetings of top scientists known as Solvay Conferences. The first and the fifth of these (1911 and 1927) are particularly noteworthy, as they helped define the foundations for the first and second incarnations of quantum theory. The 1927 conference is famous was of a huge debate between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, when Einstein opposed Quantum Theory models of Heisenberg and Bohr.

Fifth Solvay Conference 1927
Perhaps 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 replied, "Einstein, stop telling God what to do". 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.

This conference was also the culmination of the struggle between Einstein and the scientific realists, who wanted strict rules of scientific method as laid out by Charles Peirce and Karl Popper, versus Bohr and the instrumentalists, who wanted looser rules based on outcomes. Starting at this point, the instrumentalists won, instrumentalism having been seen as the norm ever since, although the debate has been actively continued by the likes of Alan Musgrave.