Six Spanish scientists recreate the iconic photograph of the 1927 Solvay Conference

The famous photograph of the 1927 Solvay conference and its recreation on May 30, 2022. / cefic

Science | Chemistry

The original image brought together the main scientific minds of the time, such as Albert Einstein or Marie Curie

Elena Martin Lopez

It has been 95 years since the Solvay International Conference on Electrons and Photons was held in 1927, in which the 29 leading scientific minds of the time, such as Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, met at the Hotel Metropole in Brussels to discuss and provide solutions to the greatest challenges of its time. The participants, 17 of whom were named Nobel Prize winners, were portrayed together in an iconic image that has gone down in history and that was recreated this Monday in that same place with 34 top-level scientists in the field of European chemistry and 21 PhD students with a brilliant record, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC).

Of the 45 participants, six are Spanish. María Escudero, associate professor of Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) since 2017 and the first Spanish to receive the Journal of Materials Chemistry Lectureship award, granted by the Royal Society of Chemistry; Javier García Martínez, current president and the first Spanish member of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC); Diego Peña, Professor of Organic Chemistry at the Santiago de Compostela University; Antonio Echavarren, leader of a research group at the Catalan Institute of Chemical Research (ICIQ); and the young talents Pablo Serna, predoctoral student in the Department of Inorganic and Organic Chemistry at the Jaume I University of Castellón, and Teresa Berdugo, researcher in the Energy Technology group at the University of Chalmers (Sweden).

Antonio Echavarren

Leader of a research group at the Catalan Institute of Chemical Research (ICIQ)

Theresa Berdugo

Researcher in the Energy Technology group at Chalmers University (Sweden)

Maria Escudero

Associate Professor of Chemistry at the

University of Copenhagen (UCPH)

Javier Garcia Martinez

Current president and the first Spanish member of the International Union of Pure Chemistry and

Applied (IUPAC)

Diego Pena

Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Santiago de Compostela

Paul Serna

Predoctoral student of the Department of Inorganic and Organic Chemistry of the Jaume I University of Castellón

Antonio Echavarren

Leader of a research group at the Catalan Institute of Chemical Research (ICIQ)

Theresa Berdugo

Researcher in the Technology group

Energy from Chalmers University

(Sweden)

Maria Escudero

Associate Professor of Chemistry at the

University of Copenhagen (UCPH)

Javier Garcia Martinez

Current president and the first Spanish member

of the International Union of Pure Chemistry and

Applied (IUPAC)

Diego Pena

Professor of Organic Chemistry at the

Santiago de Compostela University

Paul Serna

Predoctoral student at the Department of

University Inorganic and Organic Chemistry

James I of Castellón

Antonio Echavarren

Leader of a research group

at the Catalan Research Institute

Chemistry (ICIQ)

Theresa Berdugo

Researcher in the group

energy technology of the

Chalmers University (Sweden)

Maria Escudero

Associate Professor of Chemistry at the

University of Copenhagen (UCPH)

Javier Garcia Martinez

current president and the first

Spanish member of the Union

International of Pure Chemistry and

Applied (IUPAC)

Diego Pena

Professor of Organic Chemistry

at the University of Santiago

Compostela

Paul Serna

PhD student of

Chemistry Department

Inorganic and Organic

Jaume I University of Castellón

The purpose of this Monday's meeting was to recover the spirit of international cooperation that existed in the past and thus strengthen the alliance between science and business, to ensure that scientific progress and innovation find their way to the market and actively contribute to the agenda of the European Green Deal, the European Commission's roadmap that aims for the European Union to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. To this end, the convention was also attended by 25 general managers and technology directors from the main companies chemicals in Europe.

'The goal of the presence of young researchers was for us to bond with each other and collaborate together, as well as for more experienced scientists to inspire us. To do this, they divided us into working groups and now we have a few months to continue working together and prepare articles with proposals and new solutions to some of the problems, such as the circularity of chemistry, CO2 emissions or the energies of the future» , Serna tells this newspaper. «For me it has been an inspiration and has made me see that the effort is worth it. In some way, by appearing in that photo, I am already part of scientific history, and I am glad that Spanish science is being valued. Even if we don't come from such renowned universities as Oxford or Cambridge, it is clear that even from smaller universities, like mine, we also do great things and have a lot to contribute », she adds.

More female representation

Apart from the Spanish presence, which did not exist in the 1927 photo, another aspect that can be seen in the new image is a greater female presence. If in the past, of the 29 people portrayed, 28 were men and there was only one woman, Marie Curie; 27 men and 18 women appear in the 2022 snapshot. “I am glad to see that female representation is increasing in research. I think the photo illustrates very well how in the three generations present in the image the proportion of women grows, reaching approximately 50% among today's young researchers", declares Berdugo, who, despite being Spanish, attended the event as the young candidate proposed to represent Sweden. “Being invited to this event has been an honor and a privilege. It has been an excellent opportunity to meet great professors and managers of the chemical industry. I feel very fortunate to be able to access this circle at an early stage of my research career, as well as to be able to ask key people directly how they got to where they are today and how they see the future of the chemical industry and research” , recognize.

Martin Brudermüller, President of CEFIC and CEO of BASF, said during the conference: “I am excited to be surrounded today by the world's best chemists and extremely talented young researchers from all over Europe. This generation will define the future of chemical innovation in Europe and therefore the success of the European Union's Green Deal. Innovation is in our blood: the EU chemical industry is the world's second largest investor in chemical R&D, spending more than €9 billion on research each year. That is why it is essential for the future of Europe to engage not only with the current generation of scientists but also with the future one'.

About the 1927 Solvay Conference

The Solvay Lectures, founded by Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay in 1911, were considered a turning point in the scientific world. Held in Brussels, these meetings were devoted to dealing with the major questions of their time in both physics and chemistry.

Among them, the most famous was the fifth, held in October 1927, where the world's most notable physicists and chemists met to discuss the newly formulated quantum theory. The main protagonists were Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr and 17 of the 29 attendees are Nobel Prize winners, including Marie Curie, the only woman among them and the only person to have won Nobel Prizes in two different scientific disciplines: Physics and Chemistry.

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