International Solvay Institutes


The Solvay meetings have stood as an example of how much well planned and well organized conferences can contribute to the progress of science.

Werner Heisenberg

1932 Physics Nobel Laureate

What are the Solvay Conferences ?

The Solvay Conferences ("Conseils Solvay") are probably the most famous conferences in physics and chemistry. They are a key part of the history and development of science. They were responsible for initiating the first meeting between Einstein and Poincaré; they were highly instrumental in the understanding of the theory of quantum mechanics and later, of many other areas of modern physics and chemistry; and through the decades they have been associated with an astonishing number of Nobel Laureates.

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.

The key to the success of the "Conseils Solvay" lies in their organization: an international scientific committee has « carte blanche » for defining the general theme of the conferences and selecting the 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.

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

Year 1: the Solvay Conference on Physics;

Year 2: the Solvay Conference on Biology;

Year 3: the Solvay Conference on 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.

Previous Solvay Conferences on Chemistry

Previous Solvay Conferences on Physics

Previous Solvay Conferences on Biology


Each Solvay Conference leads to the publication of proceedings containing both the reports of the speakers and the ensuing discussions. The proceedings of the first Solvay Conferences have been digitized by the Libraries of ULB. They can be found at the Digithèque of ULB as well as under the corresponding Solvay Conference in the lists of Solvay Conferences given on our web site. The pdf files of the proceedings of the more recent conferences can also be found there. We are extremely grateful to both the Digithèque of ULB and World Scientific Publishing for making these files available. More historical information concerning the Conseils Solvay can be found in the article by Niels Bohr in the Proceedings of the 1961 Solvay Conference in Physics.


Click here to access the Digithèque of ULB.