Académie des Sciences, Institut de France

The Académie des Sciences in Paris owes its origin to Colbert's plan to create a general academy. It also forms part of the lineage of diverse groups of scholars who, in the 17th Century, gathered around a patron or a learned personality. Colbert chose a small group of scholars who met on December 22, 1666 in the King's library and thereafter held twice-weekly working meetings there. The first 30 years of the Academy's existence were relatively informal, since no statutes had as yet been laid down for the institution.

On 20 January 1699, Louis XIV gave the Company its first rules. The Académie received the title of Académie Royale des Sciences and was installed in the Palais du Louvre in Paris. Comprising 70 members, it contributed in the 18th Century to the scientific movement of its time through its publications and it played a role as counselor to those in power. On August 8, 1793, the Convention abolished all the academies. Two years later, on August 22, 1795, the Institut national des sciences et des arts was put in place, bringing together the old academies of the sciences, literature and arts. The Institut's first class (physical sciences and mathematics) was the largest (66 members out of 144). In 1805, the Institut national was transferred to the old so-called “Collège des Quatre-Nations", currently the Institut de France. 

In 1816, the Académie des sciences became autonomous, while forming part of the Institut de France; the head of State remained its patron. In 1835, under the influence of François Arago, the Comptes rendus of the Académie des sciences were created, which became an instrument of primary importance for the diffusion of French and foreign scientific works. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the Académie witnessed a decline in activity and influence, already triggered by demographic causes. In the face of the accelerated development of scientific research in France, in order to remain faithful to its vocation, the Académie had to adapt its structures and its missions. It recently embarked upon a far-reaching reform of its statutes, concerning its membership as well as its missions (decrees published in 2002 and 2003). 

The statutes establish that the Académie des sciences de l’Institut de France brings together French scholars and forms associations with foreign scholars, where both the former and the latter are selected from among the most eminent. By their involvement, they contribute to the accomplishing of the missions of the Academy. The Académie des sciences is independent and durable, it encourages scientific life, and contributes to progress in the sciences and in their applications:  - it studies social questions associated with the development of the sciences and formulates recommendations, possibly with the involvement of other Academies; - it is involved in the development of international scientific relations, notably within the European Union, and in the representation abroad of research carried out in France; - it monitors the quality of the teaching of the sciences and works to ensure that the products of scientific development are integrated into the culture of people of our time; - it encourages the diffusion of science among the public, and - it diligently upholds the role and the quality of French scientific language. 

The Academy comprises Members, foreign Associates and Correspondants (corresponding Members), divided into two divisions (first division: mathematical and physical sciences and their applications; second division: chemical, natural, biological and medical sciences and their applications); each of these is composed of several sections. The first division comprises four sections: mathematics; physics; mechanics and informatics; sciences of the universe. The second division also comprises four sections: chemistry; molecular and cellular biology, genomics; integrative biology; human biology and medical sciences. Each section comprises about 30 Members, 15 corresponding members, and 15 foreign Associates. There is an inter-section of applications of sciences. There are today 236 Members, 120 Correspondants and 136 Foreign Associates. In 2008, there are 18 female Members (i.e. 7.6%), 6 corresponding members (i.e. 5%), and 6 Foreign associates (i.e.4.4%). 

The executive Bureau of the Académie is composed of the President (elected by peers for 2 years), the Vice-President (elected by peers for 2 years) and the two Permanent Secretaries (in French Secrétaire perpétuel, elected by peers until their 75th birthday), one for each academic division.  The Executive Bureau ordinarily convenes once a week. The four members of the Executive Bureau are the guarantors of the quality of the Académie des sciences' work and proceedings. They likewise overview academic events planned and supervise that the academic institutions operate appropriately under their authority. The Bureau is responsible for both national and international relations of the Académie. The President chairs all public sessions, all committees (Comité secret comprised) and the statutory bodies of the Académie. He likewise chairs all Division, committee and commission meetings of which he is member, unless, as he is entitled to do so, he waives this privilege. He legally represents the Académie des sciences of France under all circumstances. The Vice-President - should the President be absent or otherwise prevented from exercising the charge of his office - statutorily replaces him in full capacity. The Permanent Secretaries, assisted by the Head of the Administrative Secretariat who reports to them, are responsible for implementing the decisions and directives of the Académie, of the Administrative Commission and of the Executive Bureau. They report to the Administrative Commission in respect to management of real-estate and handling of the finances of the Académie. With the assistance of various committees and in accordance with various provisions set out in the bylaws, they are responsible for all publications of the Académie. The definition of the specific areas of responsibility of each Permanent Secretary and the conditions under which they exercise their prerogatives are subject to decision by the Académie at large. This decision is taken pursuant to a recommendation that the President makes in session, to the Académie, after receiving proposals to this end, jointly formulated by the Permanent Secretaries.

The Academy has an Advisory Council which comprises the four members of the Executive Bureau, the two elected Members of the administrative Commission, the head of the Delegation of international affairs, the head of each scientific section and nine Members of the Academy elected by their peers for an office term of two years. Elected members can sit on the Council for a maximum of 2 terms consecutively.

The Council can be consulted by the Executive Bureau on any point involving academic affairs. The Council convenes at least twice yearly, on order from the President or at the request of four Council members.

The administrative Commission is made up of the members of the executive Bureau and of two elected members. It convenes at least four times a year, on order of the Permanent Secretaries or pursuant to a joint petition lodged by two of its members.

The Commission takes all decisions related to the budget, to management of manpower resources and real-estate, foundations and donations made to the Académie.

The main publication of the Academy are the following: Reports on science and technology (RST) a set of specific reports developed as part of a general reflection on science and technology in France with which the Académie des sciences was tasked by the Interministerial Committtee on Scientific and Technological Research, 15th July 1998, at the initiative of the Minister for National Education, Research and Technology.

The last RST (April 2008) is the 28th; “Mémoire de la science", Yearbook of the French Academy of Sciences, Booklet on address and biographical notices, Booklet on Awards and Medals, La Lettre de l’Académie which is a quarterly journal; The "Comptes rendus de l'Académie des sciences" (Proceedings) are intended for the publication of short texts, announcements of significant new results and also explicative articles, historical chronicles, records of colloquia of the Academy or of other scientific gatherings and thematic issues in different series. For researchers they represent a favoured way of achieving timeliness and making their work known rapidly to the scientific community. Each series is managed by one or more editors-in-chief, supported by an editorial committee and with the assistance of associate editors, who may or may not be academicians. Since 2000, foreign editors in chief have been associated. Since 2002, the Comptes rendus have consisted of seven series: Mathématique / Mécanique / Physique / Géoscience / Palevol / Chimie / Biologie

Awarding scientific workers has been an essential mission of the Academy of sciences since the 18th century. The grande médaille created in 1997, is a distinction awarded annually, in rotation, in the relevant disciplines of each division of the Academy, to a French or foreign scientist who has contributed to the development of science in a decisive way, both through the originality of his/her personal research and by his/her international presence and the stimulating influence which he/she will have had through the creation of a true school of research. The work carried out will have concerned an important field of fundamental research and shed new light upon and brought about a greater understanding of the discipline in question. The Académie des sciences attributes approximately 30 important prizes and almost a hundred of other prizes. Each year, the Académie creates special commissions which group 10 to 20 of its Members. The absolute majority is required for each attribution.

As any scientific organization, the Académie des sciences runs various international activities stretching from the election of Foreign Associate Members to individual relations of Members with foreign colleagues. Among them, the Foreign Secretary has to implement those which involve the Académie as a whole or imply a commitment of the Board. They mainly concern:

  • bilateral or multilateral partnership with foreign academies
  • interaction with international scientific organizations
  • exchange programs for Members or French scientists
  • international prizes
  • issues linked to scientific international policies.

Partnership with foreign academies

The Académie des sciences has made formal agreements with many National Academies of Sciences. Their purpose is to stimulate contacts between Members of foreign academies and Members of the French Académie des sciences.

These partnerships include mutual visits of high-ranking delegations. They allow confronting the policies regarding, for instance, the impact of academies work on public and politicians, the methods used for promoting scientific education and attracting students towards scientific professions, the academy management rules and regulations.

These relations lead, most of time, to exchanges of reports and documents which contain useful information in these fields. They are also an opportunity to provide advices and helps to newly founded academies. The cooperation may include meetings and workshops where specific common scientific issues are debated.

Links of the Académie des sciences with developing countries have been recently strengthened by the creation of the Inter Academic Group for Development (GID). This group is mainly intended to coordinate the activities concerning countries of the Mediterranean basin. About 20 foreign academies and scientific organisms should be integrated in this network. More generally, discussions on development take place periodically in mini forums, following initiatives of an ad hoc committee (COPED) with a particular emphasis on health, nutrition and environment.

Interaction with international scientific organizations.

The Académie des sciences belongs to many international scientific organizations. Their expected efficiency is mainly based on the weight of their recommendations which is increased by the endorsement of the whole scientific community or at least of regional academies. Moreover, they further solidarity between the member countries and naturally lead to a mutual support.

Among them, the French Académie des sciences belongs to the Global Network of Academies of Sciences (IAP), a global network of the world's science academies, issuing statements on critical global matters. The Academies Network has very efficiently helped the Académie des sciences and its Department for Education to introduce a new method for teaching science in more than 30 countries. This project, called "La main à la pâte", aims at promoting a concrete method for teaching science to young children. In Europe, the "POLLEN" project is testing the method in 12 European countries with 30.000 pupils.

The Académie des sciences is also a member of the Inter Academy Council (IAC), which is more focused on producing reports, of the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), gathering together the EU scientific academies, of ALLEA, a federation of the national academies of sciences and of humanities from 38 European countries.

The Académie des sciences is a full National Scientific Members of the International Council for Science (ICSU) where it stands officially for France. Consequently, the Académie des sciences has set up a French Committee for International Scientific Union (COFUSI) to conduct hearings of the National Scientific Committees and to implement the missions entailed by its position in ICSU.

Exchange programs.

Most of the bi-lateral agreements between the Académie des sciences and a foreign academy contain exchange programs that allow foreign scientists to stay in France for a few weeks to visit laboratories or to do research and vice versa for French scientists. Other agreements imply that alternately each contracting academy sends a member to give a lecture in the other academy. Such lectures are often patronized and then bear a name. This is for instance the case for the Humphry Davy lecture with the Royal Society and the Wolf Ramanujan Lecture with the Indian Academy of Sciences. Scientific exchanges with foreign academies are also efficiently driven by recurrent workshops or seminars involving distinguished scientists of the two countries. Other programs aim at increasing the mobility of researchers by helping them to find laboratories and funding. For instance, the French-Chinese Foundation for Science and Applications (FFCSA) gives Chinese post-docs the opportunity to spend several years in France. Similar other extensive programs should be developed in the near future for other countries.

International prizes.

International prizes are considered as another approach to cooperation between the Académie des sciences and other academies. Members of the jury have to work together and confront their views on science. Moreover the prizewinners give lectures on their own research. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the Académie des sciences and the French Moral and Political Sciences Academy (ASMP) reward a remarkable scientific collaboration between France and Netherlands. The jury of the Microsoft Prize for Science in Europe brings together an equal number of Royal Society Members and of Academy of Sciences Members. The Richard Lounsbery Prize is given jointly by the US National Academy of Sciences and the Académie des sciences and covers travel expenses resulting from visits between French and US laboratories.

Scientific international policies.

The Académie des sciences has close contacts with UNESCO particularly by taking part in giving the L'Oreal-UNESCO- Academy-of-Sciences scholarships for women in science. The Académie des sciences contributes to the Joint Science Academies' Statements that are prepared for the G8 or G8+5 summits. These last few years, the preparation of theses recommendations entailed a large amount of work to reach an agreement on the issues raised by the energy crisis, climate change and society adaptation. It may be considered as the most important activity on global policy. At a smaller scale, the Académie des sciences is looking for a partnership with European governing bodies. With the help of EASAC and of the European Commission, a pairing of European Parliament Members with European scientists has been designed to improve the understanding between European politicians and researchers.