Académie des Sciences

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Building of Institut de France, housing five French Academies

The French Académie des Sciences (Academy of Sciences), founded in 1666, is one of the oldest and most important learned societies in Europe, comparable to the Royal Society of London. It is one of the five Academies comprising the Institut de France that consists of:

One of the aims of the Academy of Sciences is to provide assistance to the French government and others in defining policies with regard to scientific and technical research. To that end, the Academy produces reports and formulates opinions and recommendations. Furthermore, the Academy stimulates the progress of science by organizing international symposiums and panel discussions. The Academy awards annually prizes to French and foreign researchers. Another mission of the Academy is the dissemination of science as a component of culture, this is done by, among other things, guarding the quality of the French scientific education.

Membership of the Academy of Sciences is open to outstanding French scientists, but also to prominent foreign scientists. In June 2011, the Academy had 252 members, 140 foreign associate members, and 102 corresponding members. The Academy is divided into two scientific divisions: the Mathematical and Physical sciences and the Chemical, Biological, Geological, and Medical sciences.


[edit] History

[edit] The first Academy of Sciences (1666-1699)

Colbert Presenting the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV in 1667. Painting by Henri Testelein.

In the seventeenth century one sees circles of scholars gathering around rich, culturally minded, patrons or political personalities. Often the scholars and their patrons decide to formalize their gatherings by forming an academy. Scholarly and scientific societies, founded in the seventeenth century, are among others the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome (1603) and the Royal Society in London (1660). In 1666, the French politician Jean-Baptiste Colbert created a French academy dedicated to science and with one of its goals advising authorities on science matters. Colbert chose a number of astronomers, mathematicians, physicists, anatomists, botanists, zoologists, and chemists who held their first meeting on December 22, 1666 in the library of Louis XIV in Paris. During his first thirty years, the Academy operated with neither statutes nor regulations.

[edit] The Royal Academy of Sciences (1699-1793)

On January 20, 1699, Louis XIV established the Academy formally and placed it under his protection. It received the name L'Académie royale des sciences [the Royal Academy of Sciences] and was installed in the Louvre in Paris. Its members were appointed by the king after a proposal made by the Academy. There were 70 regular members and 85 corresponding members. During the eighteenth century, the organization of the Royal Academy of Sciences changed many times. In 1785, a general physics section and a section of natural history and mineralogy was added to the existing six (geometry, astronomy, mechanics, anatomy, chemistry, botany). Through its work and publications, the Academy was a key contributor to the expansion of scientific activity in the eighteenth century.

[edit] First Republic

On 1793, August 8, the Academy was suspended by the revolutionary National Convention, when it decreed the abolition of toutes les académies et sociétés littéraires patentées ou dotées par la Nation [all academies and learned societies licensed or endowed by the Nation].

The Constitution of August 22, 1795 and an act of October 1795 set up a National Institute of Sciences and Arts that brought together the old academies of science, literature and art that had been unconnected under the old regime. Almost all the old members of the previously abolished Academy were formally re-elected and retook their old seats. The National Institute had three classes: I Physical and mathematical sciences, II Moral and political sciences, III Literature and fine arts. New members were elected by the members of the complete Institute. Class I had the most members (60 resident members in Paris, 60 associate members outside Paris and eight foreign associates). The "Première Classe", the direct descendant of L'Académie royale des sciences, was entitled the Classe des Sciences Mathématiques et Physiques, and covered geometry, mechanical arts, astronomy, experimental physics, chemistry, natural history and mineralogy, botany and plant physiology, anatomy and zoology, medicine and surgery, agricultural economics and the veterinary arts.

In January, 1803 the National Institute was reorganized: The class of moral and political sciences was disincorporated and the third class was subdivided. Election of members was no longer by the members of the whole Institute, but only by the members of the class concerned. Furthermore, membership had to be approved by the First Consul (i.e., by Napoleon Bonaparte, who was a member since 1798). Class I was divided into two divisions, a division of mathematical and one of physical sciences. A permanent secretary was appointed for each of the two divisions. The size was 63 members, 100 corresponding members and 8 foreign associates.

In 1805, the National Institute left the Louvre and moved to the former Collège des Quatre-Nations (built by a legacy of Cardinal Mazarin), where it is situated to this day. The palace is on the left bank opposite the Louvre.

[edit] The nineteenth century

During the Restoration, in March 1816, the "Classes of the Institute" were renamed back to "Academies" and were given autonomy, but they remained within the Institut de France. The foundations of the current structure were laid, that consists of sections with regular members, corresponding members, and foreign associates. The formal name became Académie Royale des Sciences de l'Institut de France. Ten free memberships were created for academics who are not attached to a section. Beginning in 1835, upon instigation of François Arago, the meetings of the Academy of Sciences were published on a regular basis under the name Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences [Weekly proceedings of the sessions of the Academy of Sciences]. In 1848, at the start of the Second Republic, the adjective "Royale" was dropped from the name.

[edit] The twentieth and twenty-first century

The twentieth century shows an increase in the number of members (78 in 1909, 90 in 1918, 100 in 1964) and foreign associate members (12 in 1909, 20 in 1954). However, the increase did not follow the huge growth in the size of the international science community. Faced with the rise of science and its applications, on the one hand, and the organization of scientific research in France, on the other, the Academy initiated major reforms in its composition and modus operandi. Reforms were approved on November 15, 1976 and in the early twenty-first century (decree of 2 May 2002 and January 31, 2003).

Currently the number of members under 75 years of age is limited to 250. At each election, half of the newly elected must be under 55. The maximum of foreign associate members is 150. The election of corresponding members is stopped. The law "Program for Research" of April 18, 2006 grants the Institut de France and its five academies a large amount of autonomy.

[edit] External links

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