Solvay Update

With the Solvay Centenary conference now finished for over a week, some information has been posted about it on the Solvay Institute web-site, where you can see a group picture of the attendees on the main page. Lisa Randall’s comment comparing the gender balance to that at the first conference is actually rather restrained, given that the fraction of women (2.9%, 2 out of 69, Randall and Silverstein) is smaller now than back in 1911 (4.1%, 1 out of 24, Skłodowska-Curie). Oddly, only women working in extra dimensions seem to have made the cut.

The schedule of talks is here. Perhaps someday we’ll see proceedings of the conference and learn what was in the talks and discussions. For now, this page has links to some outlines of the rapporteur talks. There were two separate sessions related to quantum computing (here and here), as well as sessions on condensed matter, particle physics, quantum gravity and string theory.

The string theory talks seem to have just been about possible applications to condensed matter and to quantum gravity, rather than about using string theory to get a unified theory. Witten attended, but appears not to have given a talk of any kind.

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12 Responses to Solvay Update

  1. Kea says:

    Oddly, only women working in extra dimensions seem to have made the cut.

    Not at all odd. To have one’s existence acknowledged, it is often a prerequisite for intelligent women to be working on Safe Topics.

  2. Peter Woit says:


    Well, in that case it’s odd that speculating about extra dimensions is a “Safe Topic”, whereas doing condensed matter physics or quantum computing isn’t…

  3. Lee Brown Jr. says:

    But she was talking about the number of chromosomes, in which case, this year there were 71 X’s and 67 Y’s, a ratio of ~ 1.06 . At the original Solvay, 25 X’s 23 Y’s ~ 1.08.

    So, she was right. Not much change in the ratio, considering it’s been 100 years.

  4. Kea says:

    I meant Safe from the dangerous possibility of being phenomenologically important. That is, I would not blame Gross here. It is the CMTs and QITs who don’t believe String Theory who are at fault for neglecting women.

  5. Shantanu says:

    Peter or anyone else, any talks on LQG or background independent approaches to quantum gravity at this meeting?

  6. manybodycpa says:

    Are the talks really just five minutes long, as suggested by the schedule?

  7. chris says:

    come on, this institution is obviously past its prime.

  8. Aleksandar Mikovic says:

    The link outlining the talks of the Solvay conference rapporteurs was quite interesting to read. For me the most interesting was the quantum gravity outline by Maldacena, since I do research in quantum gravity. Although not being able to see the
    complete content of the talk, the outline was quite indicative. Maldacena´s view of QG
    is heavilly biased by string theory and AdS/CFT correspondence. The other approaches to QG, like Loop Quantum Gravity, seem to have been completely ignored, and I consider this as a serious flaw in his rapport, since a rapporteur should review the field and not just give a rapport of his own work.

  9. Anonymous says:

    > Oddly, only women working in extra dimensions seem to have made the cut.

    Do physicists prefer women with extra dimensions?

    (apologies to everyone, I just couldn’t resist it)

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  11. Kea says:

    Anon, no, I assure you. Extra dimensions count against you.

  12. anon2 says:

    One possible objection to AdS/CMT is that a practically minded physicist cares about whether the investment into a theory is worth the output. In the theory of critical phenomenon, mean field theory and Landau’s theory are extremely simple, and provide some qualitative insight into phase transitions despite being a toy model. On the other hand, the exact solutions of the Ising model and other integrable models are (were) mathematically very challenging, but provide more detailed information than mean field theory.
    In contrast, AdS/CFT is by all accounts very mathematically involved, yet only gives you a crude toy model, and attempts to construct more realistic models soon get more complicated and ugly.
    It’s good that a small number of single-minded people are pursuing this research direction, but the above cost/reward analysis means that the majority of condensed matter theorists who are result-oriented are justified to ignore this topic.

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