The first Solvay Conference (1911) Seated (L-R): Walther Nernst, Marcel Brillouin, Ernest Solvay, Hendrik Lorentz, Emil Warburg, Jean Baptiste Perrin, Wilhelm Wien, Marie Curie, and Henri Poincaré.Standing (L-R): Robert Goldschmidt, Max Planck, Heinrich Rubens, Arnold Sommerfeld, Frederick Lindemann, Maurice de Broglie, Martin Knudsen, Friedrich Hasenöhrl, Georges Hostelet, Edouard Herzen, James Hopwood Jeans, Ernest Rutherford, Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, Albert Einstein, and Paul Langevin.  Credit: Benj Couprie, Wiki Commons

I have attended a sort of  Solvay Conference* organized by the Lorentz Center of Leiden University. The Solvay Conference of 1911 according to Dirk van Delft (Director, Boerhaave Museum) is the first conference which gathered physicists (although by invitation only) to solve open problems in physics in industry.  I say sort of  because it is the inspiration of the present Lorentz workshop.  This is the first Physics with Industry workshop at least in Holland.  There was an Industrial Mathematics workshop in 1998 which gave a solution to the parking of airplanes in Schipol!

There are 5 industry problems each assigned to a team composed of at least 7 young PhD’s and postdocs from all over Holland.  A lot of participants are not originally from the country and most are forced to work outside their fields.  There is a running joke that D  is assigned to study the yarns because he is a string theorist.

Click here if you want to look at the problems.

I will neither tell you where was I assigned to nor what the resolution of our problem was.  But this I can tell,  IT IS EXHAUSTING AND INTENSE! A lot of physics were thrown in.

I summoned all my problem solving skills and more and much much more.  By the end of the last day, I can’t even bike going home.  Well, I could also blame the wine and cheese (and beer) party we had but that’s another story.

We tried to solve the very vague problem by slicing it into different pieces. I worked with another physicists and made a model. We obtained results that could pass off as an undergraduate thesis.  And we did that in less than 4 days!

In the end, it made me think that we need these kinds of workshops or conferences in Southeast Asia* for the very simple reason that we need to show that we are capable to tackle much more of such problems and not merely a source of cheap manual labor.


*There is a separate Solvay Conference in Belguim.  That is the real Solvay conference.  However, Lorentz is from Leiden so there is pride that the real spirit of the Solvay conference is in this conference.

*Why the whole region and not only the Philippines? Because in these kinds of activities, the more diverse the background of the young scientists are the better.  However, country specific problems can be solved in the country say, the best way to unclog EDSA (?).

By the way as an interesting trivia, the head of E. Solvay was just cut and pasted. See how its dimension is different from Lorentz who is seated beside him? Talk about old school photoshop. I hope my face in the group picture will not be replaced. :)