Solvay Centennial

In October of 1911, top physicists of their day gathered in Brussels for a conference on "The Theory of Radiation and Quanta"—one of the earliest and most productive meetings in the emerging field of quantum physics. The meeting, initiated by Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay and known as the Solvay Conference on Physics, included such giants of modern physics as Max Planck, Louis DeBroglie, Marie Skłodowska-Curie, Ernest Rutherford, Hendrik Lorentz, and Albert Einstein. Their discussions centered around the roles of the classical and quantum approaches to understanding nature.

One century later, in October of 2011, leading quantum physicists gathered again in Brussels for a new Solvay conference entitled, "The Theory of the Quantum World." Los Alamos's Wojciech Zurek was invited to attend. Zurek is best known for his pioneering work on quantum decoherence, the mechanism by which quantum systems become effectively classical as the information about their states "leaks" out and affects their environment. He is also known for co-authoring the famous quantum "no-cloning" theorem and for his recent work on quantum discord, which essentially describes how extensively a quantum system is disturbed when one of its properties is measured. Zurek was honored to be among only 72 invitees—many of them Nobel Prize winners, like many of the participants at the original Solvay conference. [Look for more on Zurek's work on quantum discord to be featured in an upcoming issue of 1663.]

—Craig Tyler

Tsunami waves approach the Number 5 reactor of the Daiichi

Many of the giants of twentieth-century physics appear in this group photo from the first Solvay Conference on Physics in 1911. Below: Part of the invitation to the first Solvay conference.


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