Science, maths and computers.
This photograph represents something truly incredible - the coming together of 29 of the greatest minds of the early 20th century, to discuss and debate the ins-and-outs of the newly formulated matrix mechanics, or what we now call quantum mechanics.
Einstein, Curie, Heisenberg, Schrödinger are names which are now embedded in common parlance. It’s impossible to complete a physics degree without hearing about most of the people in this photograph - the Pauli exclusion principle; Dirac notation; Brillouin zones; Debye length; Compton scattering; the Langevin equation… I could go on. Indeed, more than half of the people in this photograph became Nobel laureates.
As a physicist, it’s pretty humbling to look at this photo and think about how each of the dour faces staring right back at me has shaped human knowledge to such a degree.
The Fifth conference, on ‘Electrons et Photons’ became one of the most famous of the early Solvay conferences. It was the venue for one of the more infamous (and controversially misinterpreted) exchanges between Einstein and Bohr, where Einstein - a critic of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle - famously asserted ‘God does not play dice’ to which Bohr replied ‘Einstein, stop telling God what to do.’
Here is the complete list of names in the photograph:
P. Debye, M. Knudsen, W.L. Bragg, H.A. Kramers, P.A.M. Dirac, A.H. Compton, L. de Broglie, M. Born, N. Bohr;
I. Langmuir, M. Planck, M. Skłodowska-Curie, H.A. Lorentz, A. Einstein, P. Langevin, Ch.-E. Guye, C.T.R. Wilson, O.W. Richardson