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National Academy of Sciences
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C.
Location: 2101 Constitution Ave., NW.
Washington, D.C.
Architect: Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue
Added to NRHP: March 15, 1974
NRHP Reference#: 74002168

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

The National Academy of Sciences is part of the National Academies, which also includes:

The group holds a congressional charter under Title 36 of the United States Code.





Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences

The Act of Incorporation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1863, created the National Academy of Sciences and named 50 charter members. Many of the original NAS came from the so-called Scientific Lazzaroni, an informal network of mostly physical scientists working in the vicinity of Cambridge, Massachusetts (circa 1850s).[1]

In 1863, enlisting the support of Alexander Dallas Bache and Charles Henry Davis, a professional astronomer recently recalled from the Navy to Washington to head the Bureau of Navigation, Louis Agassiz and Benjamin Peirce planned the steps whereby the National Academy of Sciences was to be established. Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts was to name Agassiz to the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian.

Agassiz was to come to Washington at government expense to plan the organization with the others. So it was done, bypassing Joseph Henry, who had already made known his reluctance to have a bill for such an academy presented to Congress in the belief that such a resolution would be “opposed as something at variance with our democratic institutions;” (Henry nevertheless soon became the second NAS President). Agassiz, Davis, Peirce, Benjamin Gould, and Senator Wilson met at Bache's house and "hurriedly wrote the bill incorporating the Academy, including in it the name of fifty incorporators."[2]

During the last hours of the session, when the Senate was immersed in the rush of last minute business before its adjournment, Senator Wilson introduced the bill. Without examining it or debating its provisions, both the Senate and House approved it, and President Lincoln signed it.[2]

Although hailed as a great step forward in government recognition of the role of science in American civilization, the National Academy of Sciences at the time created enormous ill-feelings among scientists,[2] whether or not they were named as incorporators. Later, Agassiz admitted that they had “started on the wrong track.”

The Act states:

[T]he Academy shall, whenever called upon by any department of the Government, investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art, the actual expense of such investigations, examinations, experiments, and reports to be paid from appropriations which may be made for the purpose, but the Academy shall receive no compensation whatever for any services to the Government of the United States.
An Act to Incorporate the National Academy of Sciences[3]

The National Academy did not solve the problems facing a nation in Civil War as the Lazzaroni had hoped, nor did it centralize American scientific efforts.[2]

Recent history

The National Academies' Beckman Conference Center, Irvine, California

As of spring 2009, the National Academy of Sciences included about 2,100 members and 380 foreign associates.[4] It employed about 1,100 staff in 2005.[5] The current members annually elect new members for life. Election to membership is one of the highest honors (however, not as high as a Nobel Prize) that can be accorded to a scientist and recognizes scientists who have made distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Nearly 200 members have won a Nobel Prize.[4]

The National Academy of Sciences is a member of the International Council for Science (ICSU). The ICSU Advisory Committee, which is in the Research Council's Office of International Affairs, facilitates participation of members in international scientific unions and is a liaison for U.S. national committees for the individual scientific unions. Although there is no formal relationship with state and local academies of science, there often is informal dialogue.

The National Academy of Sciences meets annually in Washington, D.C., documented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scholarly journal of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academies Press is the publisher for the National Academies, and makes 3600+ publications available for free reading on its website.

There are several books on the National Academy of Sciences and the advice the National Research Council gives the U.S. government, including a critical piece of journalism The Brain Bank of America [6] by Philip Boffey and a sociological study Science on Stage: Expert Advice as Public Drama.[7]

Since 2004, the National Academy of Sciences has administered the Marian Koshland Science Museum, to provide public exhibits and programming related to its policy work. The museum's current exhibits focus on climate change and infectious disease.

Presidents of the National Academy of Sciences

The President is the elected head of the Academy. An Academy member is elected by a majority vote of the membership to serve in this position for a term to be determined by the governing Council, not to exceed six years, and may be re-elected for a second term. The Academy has had twenty-one presidents since its foundation. The current president is atmospheric chemist, Ralph J. Cicerone of the University of California, Irvine.[8]


Joint declaration on global warming

In 2005 the national science academies of the G8 nations (including the National Academy of Sciences) plus science academies of Brazil, China and India (three of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the developing world) signed a statement on the global response to climate change. The statement stresses that the scientific understanding of climate change had become sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action.[9][10]


The Academy gives a number of different awards:

  • Behavioral/Social Sciences
    • NAS Award for Behavior Research Relevant to the Prevention of Nuclear War
    • Troland Research Awards
  • Biology and Medicine
    • Alexander Hollaender Award in Biophysics
    • Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal
    • Richard Lounsbery Award
    • NAS Award in Molecular Biology
    • NAS Award in the Neurosciences
    • Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal
    • Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology
  • Mathematics and Computer Science
    • NAS Award in Mathematics
    • John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science
  • Physics
    • Arctowski Medal
    • Comstock Prize in Physics
    • Alexander Hollaender Award in Biophysics

See also


External links

Coordinates: 38°53′35″N 77°02′52″W / 38.893°N 77.0477°W / 38.893; -77.0477


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