Science Service, Up Close: Lorentz and Einstein, Geneva, 1926

Physicists Hendrik Antoon Lorentz and Albert Einstein, co-chairmen of the League of Nations Committe

On the morning of Tuesday, October 6, 2015, the Nobel Foundation will announce the latest recipient (or recipients) of the prize in physics. In honor of that occasion, the Smithsonian Institution Archives presents a previously unpublished photograph of two famous Nobel laureates: Hendrik Antoon Lorentz (1853-1928) and Albert Einstein (1879-1955).

Science Service journalist Watson Davis photographed the two physicists on July 19, 1926, in Geneva, Switzerland, at a meeting of a League of Nations committee. Davis was attending the meeting along with biologist Vernon Lyman Kellogg, permanent secretary of the National Research Council, to present “The Establishment and International Cooperation of National Organizations for the Popularization of Science and Other Intellectual Endeavors,” a report that promoted Science Service as the ideal model for such efforts.

Lorentz and Einstein had known each other for many years. The Nobel Prize in Physics had been awarded jointly to Lorentz and Pieter Zeeman in 1902 in recognition of their research into the influence of magnetism upon radiation phenomena. Einstein received the same award in 1922 for his work in theoretical physics, and on the photoelectric effect.

In July 1926, the two physicists were part of the elite Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, attempting to strengthen international knowledge networks after World War I. Lorentz co-chaired the committee with George Gilbert Aimé Murray, Professor of Greek at Oxford University. Other members included Einstein, Nobel laureates Marie Curie (who received Nobel prizes in 1903 and 1911) and Robert Andrews Millikan (awarded a Nobel in 1923), Norwegian biologist Kristine Elisabeth Heuch Bonnevie, and French political leader Paul Painlevé.

Davis photographed a few other participants in the meeting that day but none so famous as Einstein, sharing an informal moment outside with a fellow laureate.

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