The legacy of Ernest Solvay - A Trip around a name

Solvay ... over the past century and a half, this family name has grown synonymous with world-class chemical manufacturing. But there's more to it. Have a look at this video produced at the occasion of our 150th anniversary for an astonishing trip to a selection of unique locations around the globe bearing the Solvay name.
For a historian of science, Solvay evokes prestigious scientific conferences. A resident of Tuscany is more likely to think of a well-known garden city. A chemistry student will connect the name with an elegant industrial process; a student of management with a sought-after degree. For the Alpinist, it will call up a high mountaineering refuge hut, while a financial investor will associate it with a blue chip share. Today we propose a multimedia voyage of discovery to the multiple Solvays on our planet, from the best known to the most unusual.

A place name

Solvay is deeply rooted in the different parts of the world that have welcomed it. By building factories and garden cities, it has shaped the industrial landscape and dynamized local life. Close to its plants, countless locations are named after the founding brothers: streets, avenues, and squares, as well as theaters, cinemas, meeting rooms, swimming pools, sports arenas. In some cases, like Rosignano-Solvay (Italy), or in the State of New York (United States), an entire city district has taken the name. You will find these history-laded places in the video. And alongside them are more recent ones, like the Solvay headquarters in Shanghai, a symbol of the Group's vitality in fast-growing countries.

Synonymous with science and human progress

Already as a teenager, Ernest Solvay was passionate about the pure and applied sciences, physics and chemistry in particular. Paradoxically, his hectic entrepreneurial career long prevented him from pursuing them, the more so as he had left school at age 17. But past the age of fifty, and having made his fortune, he spent lavishly to support scientific research. More than just a patron, Ernest Solvay was personally involved in the organization of academic institutions. Helped by the best specialists, he supported the creation of a science city in the Leopold Park in Brussels, a stone's throw from the current EU institutions. The Institute of Sociology, now known as the "Solvay Library" is a reputed institution in the academic world, as is the Solvay Business School, whose name was recently modernized as "Solvay Brussels School of Economics & Management". Today, Ernest Solvay's scientific philanthropy is continued with the "Solvay Prize for Chemistry of the Future" that rewards major scientific discoveries that could shape tomorrow's chemistry and promote human progress.

At the limits of the known world and beyond

Perched at the top of the Matterhorn, 4003 meters above sea level, is the highest mountain hut in the Alps, the Solvayhütte, the founding of which Ernest Solvay financed in 1915. Of frail constitution, Ernest Solvay suffered several nervous breakdowns in the 1890s. As a cure his doctor and friend Paul Héger recommended alpine climbing. Solvay devoted himself vigorously to this sport to beyond the age of 80.

Far south, in Antarctica there is a Mount Solvay, named in honor of Ernest-John Solvay (Ernest's grandson), who sponsored of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1957-1958 led by Gaston de Gerlache.

Even higher, even further, let's zoom away to the asteroid belt somewhere between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter: asteroid 7537, discovered in 1996 by Erik Elst at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, is named after the Belgian inventor. A galactic tribute Ernest Solvay could hardly have dreamed of! 

Let’s return to the earth's atmosphere while keeping our heads in the stars ... As main technology partner of the Solar Impulse, the name Solvay figures prominently on the extra-light cabin of the solar aircraft piloted by Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg. The two pilots have contributed with humor to our film tribute. Note that the links between the Solvay and Piccard families go back several generations: Bertrand's grandfather, Auguste Piccard, physicist and explorer of genius (and the inspiration of Hergé's Professor Calculus) was related to Ernest Solvay, attending several Solvay Physics Councils along with Einstein, Curie, Planck, Lorentz & co. The world is indeed a small place!

In creating his company, Ernest Solvay would never have imagined that his name have been carried so far and wide, but he would probably be very pleased to know that whatever the meaning ascribed to it, the name Solvay still helps convey the values of humanism and progress that were dear to him.

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