Topics: History Of Physics - Solvay Conferences

Solvay Conferences

The "Conseils Solvay" are probably the most famous conferences in physics and chemistry. From the very beginning, they have been attended by the best scientists working in the field. They have shaped modern physics and chemistry. In fact, the 1911 Solvay Conference in Physics was the first international conference in physics ever organized. It was held at the invitation of Ernest Solvay, who received scientific advice from W. Nernst and H. Lorentz. It is on this occasion that Einstein and Poincaré met, for the only time.

The key to the success of the "Conseils Solvay" lies in their organization: an international scientific committee is in charge of defining the general theme of the conferences and of selecting a chair person. The conference chair sets up the programme (i.e., decides specific subjects and sessions) as well as the invitations.

One characteristic feature of the Solvay Conferences is the emphasis on discussions over presentations. Typically, Solvay Conferences are divided into half-day sessions. Each session begins with one or two reports reviewing the state-of-the-art of the subject (and distributed to the participants before the start of the Conference), followed by vivid discussions steered by the chair of the session.

Participation to the "Conseils Solvay" is by invitation only. In addition to the guests selected by the chair of the conference, a number of Belgian scientists working in the field of the conference are invited to attend as auditors.

Starting with the 2005 Solvay Conference in Physics, general public lectures open to a wider audience are combined with the event.

The Solvay Conferences go in principle through a three year cycle:

Year 1: the Solvay Conference in Physics;

Year 2: no conference;

Year 3: the Solvay Conference in Chemistry.

This cycle has been perturbed by many factors in the past. It has been decided to adhere to it more strictly in the future, with a prominent role played again by the scientific committees and the chairs of the conferences.

Scientific Committees

The Scientific Committees are in charge of the Conseils Solvay. Their outstanding quality is what makes the International Solvay Institutes renowned worldwide. Each member is appointed for a 6-year period term, renewable once. The International Solvay Institutes are proud of their Scientific Committees and most grateful for their remarkable work.

Scientific Committee for Physics


Professor David GROSS Nobel Prize 2004, Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (Santa Barbara, USA)


Professor Fortunato Tito ARECCHI

Professor Jocelyn BELL BURNELL

Professor Steven CHU

Professor Claude COHEN-TANNOUDJI

Professor Ludwig FADDEEV

Professor Gerard ’t HOOFT

Professor Giorgio PARISI

Professor Pierre RAMOND

Professor Klaus VON KLITZING Università di Firenze and INOA, Italy (1 July 2004-30 June 2010, Second Term)

University of Bath, UK (1 July 2004-30 June 2010, First Term)

Nobel Prize 1997, University of Berkeley, USA (1 January 2008-31 December 2013, First Term)

Nobel Prize 1997, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France (1 July 2004-30 June 2010, Second Term)

V.A Steklov Mathematical Institute, Saint-Petersburg, Russia (1 July 2004-30 June 2010, Second Term)

Nobel Prize 1999, Spinoza Instituut, Utrecht, The Netherlands (1 July 2004-30 June 2010, Second Term)

Università La Sapienza, Roma, Italy (1 January 2008-31 December 2013, First Term)

University of Florida, Gainesville, USA (1 July 2004-30 June 2010, First Term)

Nobel Prize 1985, Max-Planck-Institut, Stuttgart, Germany (1 July 2004-30 June 2010, First Term)

Scientific Secretary:

Professor Alexandre SEVRIN Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium)

Scientific Committee for Chemistry


Professor Stuart Rice University of Chicago (USA)


Professor Manfred EIGEN

Professor Graham FLEMING

Professor Harold W. KROTO

Professor Jean-Marie LEHN

Professor Henk N.W. LEKKERKERKER

Professor Mario J. MOLINA

Professor K.C. NICOLAOU

Professor Kurt WÜTHRICH

Nobel Prize 1967, Max-Planck Institut, Göttingen, Germany (1 June 2005-31 May 2011, Second Term)

University of Berkeley, USA (1 June 2005-31 May 2011, First Term)

Nobel Prize 1996, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK (1 June 2005-31 May 2011, First Term)

Nobel Prize 1987, Collège de France, Paris, France (1 June 2005-31 May 2011, Second Term)

Utrecht Universiteit, The Netherlands (1 June 2005-31 May 2011, First Term)

Nobel Prize 1995, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA (1 June 2005-31 May 2011, Second Term)

University of California, San Diego, USA (1 June 2005-31 May 2011, First Term)

Nobel Prize 2002, Institut Fédéral Suisse de Technologie, Zurich, Switzerland (1 June 2005-31 May 2011, First Term)

Scientific Secretary:

Professor Anne DE WIT Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium)

Previous Solvay Conferences on Physics

1. 1911 « La théorie du rayonnement et les quanta »

Chair Hendrik Lorentz (Leyden)

2. 1913 « La structure de la matière »

Chair Hendrik Lorentz (Leyden)

3. 1921 « Atomes et électrons »

Chair Hendrik Lorentz (Leyden)

4. 1924 « Conductibilité électrique des métaux et problèmes connexes »

Chair Hendrik Lorentz (Leyden)

5. 1927 « Electrons et photons »

Chair Hendrik Lorentz (Leyden)

6. 1930 « Le magnétisme »

Chair Paul Langevin (Paris)

7. 1933 « Structure et propriétés des noyaux atomiques »

Chair Paul Langevin (Paris)

8. 1948 « Les particules élémentaires »

Chair Sir Lawrence Bragg ( Cambridge )

9. 1951 « L'état solide »

Chair Sir Lawrence Bragg ( Cambridge )

10. 1954 « Les électrons dans les métaux »

Chair Sir Lawrence Bragg ( Cambridge )

11. 1958 « La structure et l'évolution de l'univers »

Chair Sir Lawrence Bragg ( Cambridge )

12. 1961 « La théorie quantique des champs »

Chair Sir Lawrence Bragg ( Cambridge )

13. 1964 "The Structure and Evolution of Galaxies"

Chair Robert Oppenheimer (Princeton)

14. 1967 "Fundamental Problems in Elementary Particle Physics"

Chair R. Møller (Copenhagen)

15. 1970 "Symmetry Properties of Nuclei"

Chair Edoardo Amaldi (Rome)

16. 1973 "Astrophysics and Gravitation"

Chair Edoardo Amaldi (Rome)

17. 1978 "Order and Fluctuations in Equilibrium and Nonequilibrium Statistical Mechanics"

Chair Léon Van Hove (CERN)

18. 1982 "Higher Energy Physics"

Chair Léon Van Hove (CERN)

19. 1987 "Surface Science"

Chair F.W. de Wette (Austin)

20. 1991 "Quantum Optics"

Chair Paul Mandel (Brussels)

21. 1998 "Dynamical Systems and Irreversibility"

organized by Ioannis Antoniou (Brussels)

22. 2001 "The Physics of Communication"

organized by Ioannis Antoniou (Brussels)

23. 2005 "The Quantum Structure of Space and Time"

Chair David Gross (Santa Barbara)

24. 2008 "Quantum Theory of Condensed Matter"

Chair Bertrand Halperin (Harvard)

Previous Solvay Conferences on Chemistry

1. 1922 « Cinq Questions d'Actualité »

Chair William Pope (Cambridge)

2. 1925 « Structure et Activité Chimique »

Chair William Pope (Cambridge)

3. 1928 « Questions d'Actualité »

Chair William Pope (Cambridge)

4. 1931 « Constitution et Configuration des Molécules Organiques »

Chair William Pope (Cambridge)

5. 1934 « L'Oxygène, ses réactions chimiques et biologiques »

Chair William Pope (Cambridge)

6. 1937 « Les Vitamines et les Hormones »

Chair Fred Swarts (Gand)

7. 1947 « Les Isotopes »

Chair Paul Karrer (Zurich)

8. 1950 « Le Mécanisme de l'Oxydation »

Chair Paul Karrer (Zurich)

9. 1953 « Les Protéines »

Chair Paul Karrer (Zurich)

10. 1956 « Quelques Problèmes de Chimie Minérale »

Chair Paul Karrer (Zurich)

11. 1959 « Les Nucléoprotéines »

Chair A.R. Ubbelohde (London)

12. 1962 « Transfert d'Energie dans les Gazs »

Chair A.R. Ubbelohde (London)

13. 1965 "Reactivity of the Photoexited Organic Molecule"

Chair A.R. Ubbelohde (London)

14. 1969 "Phase Transitions"

Chair A.R. Ubbelohde (London)

15. 1970 "Electrostatic Interactions and Structure of Water"

Chair A.R. Ubbelohde (London)

16. 1976 "Molecular Movements and Chemical Reactivity as conditioned by Membranes, Enzymes and other Molecules"

Chair A.R. Ubbelohde (London)

17. 1980 "Aspects of Chemical Evolution"

Chair A.R. Ubbelohde (London)

18. 1983 "Design and Synthesis of Organic Molecules Based on Molecular Recognition"

Chairs Ephraim Katchalski (Rehovot, Israel) and Vladimir Prelog (Zurich)

19. 1987 "Surface Science"

Chair Frederik W. de Wette (Austin)

20. 1995 "Chemical Reactions and their Control on the Femtosecond Time Scale"

Chair Pierre Gaspard (Brussels)

21. 2007 "From Noncovalent Assemblies to Molecular Machines"

Chair Jean-Pierre Sauvage (Strasbourg)

Solvay Conferences