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National Academy of Sciences

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3 March 1863


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National Academy of Sciences

March 3, 1863; 154 years ago (1863-03-03)

Founded at
2101 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, D.C., U.S. 20418

2101 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20418, USA

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Alexander Dallas Bache, Abraham Lincoln

National Academy of Medicine, American Society for Biochemi, American Academy of Arts an, American Chemical Society, American Association for the Ad


Abraham lincoln and the founding of the national academy of sciences

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a United States nonprofit, non-governmental organization. NAS is part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, along with the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the National Academy of Medicine (NAM).


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. Election to the National Academies is one of the highest honors in the scientific field. Members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation" on science, engineering, and medicine. The group holds a congressional charter under Title 36 of the United States Code.

Founded in 1863 as a result of an Act of Congress that was approved by Abraham Lincoln, the NAS is charged with "providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. … to provide scientific advice to the government 'whenever called upon' by any government department. The Academy receives no compensation from the government for its services."

2015 national academy of sciences public welfare medal recipient neil degrasse tyson 4 26 2015


As of 2016, the National Academy of Sciences includes about 2,350 members and 450 foreign associates. It employed about 1,100 staff in 2005. The current members annually elect new members for life. Approximately 200 members have won a Nobel Prize.

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 serves as a liaison for U.S. national committees for individual scientific unions. Although there is no formal relationship with state and local academies of science, there often is informal dialogue. The National Academies is governed by a 17-member Council, made up of five officers (president, vice president, home secretary, foreign secretary, and treasurer) and 12 Councilors, all of whom are elected from among the Academy membership. About 85 percent of funding comes from the federal government through contracts and grants from agencies and 15 percent from state governments, private foundations, industrial organizations, and funds provided by the Academies member organizations.

The National Academy of Sciences meets annually in Washington, D.C., which is documented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, its scholarly journal. The National Academies Press is the publisher for the National Academies, and makes more than 5,000 publications freely available on its website.

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.


The National Academy of Sciences maintains multiple buildings around the United States.

The historic National Academy of Sciences building is located at 2101 Constitution Avenue, in northwest Washington, DC; it sits on the National Mall, adjacent to the Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building and in front of the headquarters of the U.S. State Department. The building has a neoclassical architectural style and was built by architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. The building was dedicated in 1924 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Goodhue engaged a team of artists and architectural sculptors including Albert Herter, Lee Lawrie, and Hildreth Meiere to design interior embellishments celebrating the history and significance of science. The building is used for lectures, symposia, exhibitions, and concerts, in addition to annual meetings of the NAS, NAE, and NAM. The 2012 Presidential Award for Math and Science Teaching ceremony was held here on March 5, 2014. Approximately 150 staff members work at the NAS Building. In June 2012, it reopened to visitors after a major two-year restoration project which restored and improved the building's historic spaces, increased accessibility, and brought the building's aging infrastructure and facilities up to date.

More than 1,000 National Academies staff members work at The Keck Center of the National Academies at 500 Fifth Street in northwest Washington, D.C. The Keck Center provides meeting space and houses the National Academies Press Bookstore. The Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences – located at 525 E St., N.W. – hosts visits from the public, school field trips, traveling exhibits, and permanent science exhibits.

The NAS also maintains conference centers in California and Massachusetts. The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center is located on 100 Academy Drive in Irvine, California, near the campus of the University of California, Irvine; it offers a conference center and houses several NAS programs. The J. Erik Jonsson Conference Center located at 314 Quissett Avenue in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, is another conference facility.


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 members came from the so-called "Scientific Lazzaroni," an informal network of mostly physical scientists working in the vicinity of Cambridge, Massachusetts (c. 1850).

In 1863, enlisting the support of Alexander Dallas Bache and Charles Henry Davis, a professional astronomer who had been recently recalled from the Navy to Washington to head the Bureau of Navigation. They also elicited support from Swiss-American geologist Louis Agassiz and American mathematician Benjamin Peirce, who together 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 Institution.

Agassiz was to come to Washington at the government's expense to plan the organization with the others. This bypassed Joseph Henry, who was reluctant to have a bill for such an academy presented to Congress. This was in the belief that such a resolution would be "opposed as something at variance with our democratic institutions". Nevertheless, Henry soon became the second President of NAS. 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".

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.

Although hailed as a great step forward in government recognition of the role of science in American society, at the time, the National Academy of Sciences created enormous ill-feelings among scientists, whether or not they were named as incorporators.

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.

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

In 1870, the congressional charter was amended to remove the limitation on the number of members.

In 2013, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was asked to write a speech for the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address in which he made the point that one of Lincoln's greatest legacies was establishing the National Academy of Sciences in that same year, which had the long-term effect of "setting our Nation on a course of scientifically enlightened governance, without which we all may perish from this Earth".


The president is the head of the Academy, 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 22 presidents since its foundation. The current president is geophysicist Marcia K. McNutt, the first woman to hold this position. Her term expires June 30, 2022.


The Academy gives a number of different awards:

  • General
  • John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science
  • William O. Baker Award for Initiatives in Research, formerly NAS Award for Initiatives in Research
  • NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing
  • NAS Award for Scientific Discovery
  • Public Welfare Medal
  • Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in Convergence Research
  • Astronomy/Astrophysics
  • Henry Draper Medal
  • J. Lawrence Smith Medal
  • James Craig Watson Medal
  • Behavioral/Social Sciences
  • Atkinson Prize in Psychological and Cognitive Sciences
  • William and Katherine Estes Award, formerly the NAS Award for Behavioral 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
  • Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal
  • NAS Award in Molecular Biology
  • NAS Award in the Neurosciences
  • Pradel Research Award
  • Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology
  • Chemistry
  • NAS Award in Chemical Sciences
  • NAS Award for Chemistry in Service to Society
  • Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • Alexander Agassiz Medal
  • Arthur L. Day Prize and Lectureship
  • Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal
  • Mary Clark Thompson Medal
  • NAS Award in Early Earth and Life Sciences
  • Charles Doolittle Walcott Medal, part of the NAS Award in Early Earth and Life Sciences since 2008
  • Stanley Miller Medal, part of the NAS Award in Early Earth and Life Sciences since 2008
  • G. K. Warren Prize
  • Engineering and Applied Sciences
  • J.C. Hunsaker Award - aeronautical engineering
  • Gibbs Brothers Medal - naval architecture, marine engineering
  • NAS Award for the Industrial Application of Science
  • NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Science
  • Mathematics and Computer Science
  • NAS Award in Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Arctowski Medal
  • Comstock Prize in Physics
  • Alexander Hollaender Award in Biophysics
  • Joint Declaration on Global Warming

    In 2005, the national science academies of the G8 forum (including the National Academy of Sciences) and 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.

    On May 7, 2010, a letter signed by 255 Academy members was published in Science magazine, decrying "political assaults" against climate change scientists. This was in response to a civil investigative demand on the University of Virginia (UVA) by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, seeking a broad range of documents from Michael E. Mann, a former UVA professor from 1999-2005. Mann, who currently works at Penn State, is a climate change researcher, and Cuccinelli alleges that Mann may have defrauded Virginia taxpayers in the course of his environmental research. Investigations had cleared Mann of charges that he falsified or suppressed data.

    Notable appointments

  • 1873, Edward C. Pickering (1846–1919) was the youngest scientist elected
  • 1924, Florence R. Sabin (1871-1953) was the first lifetime woman member to be elected
  • 1965, David Blackwell (1919-2010) was the first African-American elected
  • 2013, Ben Barres was the first openly transgender scientist elected
  • References

    National Academy of Sciences Wikipedia

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