Thursday, 29 July 2021

Solvay, the latest sponsor of Flotation '21, has an illustrious history of scientific conferences

We welcome the world's largest supplier of specialty mining chemicals, Solvay, as a sponsor of Flotation '21. Solvay supported Flotation '17 and Flotation '19 and prior to that US-based Cytec was a regular sponsor of the flotation series before being acquired by Solvay in 2015. I last met up with some of the group members at last year's SME Meeting in Phoenix, shortly before the world went mad!

Solvay representatives in Phoenix

Solvay is one of the oldest companies sponsoring MEI, the company being founded in 1863 by Ernest Solvay and a small circle of relatives, after a technological breakthrough, the ammonia-soda process. In 1900 95% of the soda ash consumed in the world was produced using the Solvay Process.

Ernest Solvay called science his “fifth child” and he devoted time and money to endow scientific learning. His main passion was physics and he funded a number of conferences in Brussels bringing together the era's most brilliant physicists. The first Solvay Conference was held in 1911, a chemistry conference was held in 1922, and institutes have since organised such meetings on a regular basis even until today.

We at MEI pride ourselves on the quality and eminence of our delegates, but my head reels when I look at the photo below, delegates at the 5th Solvay International Conference, on Photos and Electrons, held in Brussels in 1927. The delegate list contained only 29 participants but 17 of them were, or would become, Nobel Prize Winners.

The Nobel Laureates at the conference are in bold below:
Back row: Auguste Piccard, Émile Henriot, Paul Ehrenfest, Édouard Herzen, Théophile de Donder, Erwin Schrödinger, Jules-Émile Verschaffelt, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, Ralph Howard Fowler, Léon Brillouin

Middle Row: Peter Debye, Martin Knudsen, William Lawrence Bragg, Hendrik Anthony Kramers, Paul Dirac, Arthur Compton, Louis de Broglie, Max Born, Niels Bohr

Seated front: Irving Langmuir, Max Planck, Marie Skłodowska Curie, Hendrik Lorentz, Albert Einstein, Paul Langevin, Charles Eugène Guye, Charles Thomson Rees Wilson, Owen Willans Richardson

Many of the names are familiar to me from the lectures on quantum theory, the strange world of the unimaginably small, that were part of my degree course in metallurgy at Leeds University in the mid 1960s. I remember struggling (as I think the lecturer was) to grasp the concepts of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, Pauli's Exclusion Principle, the wave equations of Schrödinger and de Broglie and Bohr's structure of the atom. They are all there in the photo, including the only woman, Marie Curie, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two scientific fields. She discovered the elements polonium and radium, using techniques she invented for isolating radioactive isotopes. Radium was first isolated by her from pitchblende from the Trenwith Mine above St. Ives in Cornwall.

The only quantum theory sceptic at the conference was Albert Einstein who famously debated the newly formulated theory with Niels Bohr. Einstein, disenchanted with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, remarked “God does not play dice” to which Bohr replied: “Einstein, stop telling God what to do".

Back to the present after that sojourn into the past, and thanks again Solvay and all our other Flotation '21 sponsors for your support, which we greatly appreciate.

And just a reminder that if you would like to make a presentation at the conference, abstracts should be submitted by the end of August.

Updates are at #Flotation21

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