The Brazilian Academy of Sciences, which in its first five years was named Brazilian Society of Sciences, was formally founded on May 3, 1916, in Rio de Janeiro, then the capital of the Brazilian Republic. The new Society comprised three sections: Mathematics, Physicochemical Sciences and Biological Sciences, and was modeled on the French Academy of Sciences. The main objectives of the Society were to encourage its members to pursue scientific research, to stimulate the development of national based research, and to diffuse the notion of science as a factor promoting prosperity and the technological development of the country. Although support and aid from the government was expected, the Academy was structured as a private, legally independent organization, appointing its own administrative officers and drawing up its own rules. In its early years, the Academy played a determinant role in the fostering of science in Brazil, with several of its members contributing significantly to the advancement of other scientific and cultural activities in the country, such as the introduction of radio broadcasting in Brazil (1923) and the creation of the Brazilian Society for Education (1924).

After World War II, the Academy played a leading role in the creation, in 1951, of the National Research Council (CNPq). In fact, the plan approved by the government was conceived in the Academy, whose president (Alvaro Alberto da Motta e Silva) was appointed as the first president of the Council. The highest level of decision making in science and technology national policy was the Deliberative Board of CNPq, which included, in addition to representatives of the government, a representative of the Academy and a large number of scientists, most of them members of the Academy. Various important institutions such as the Brazilian National Commission for Nuclear Energy (CNEM), the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and the National Institute of Research of the Amazon (INPA) have their origins in committees set up by that board. Similarly, many other institutions such as the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), the Brazilian Chemical Society (SBQ), the University of São Paulo (USP), the Brazilian Center for Research in Physics (CBPF) and the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC) had their creation directly directed or influenced by the Academy.

The late 1960’s and the 1970’s are characterized by the perseverant command of Aristides Azevedo Pacheco Leão, who later became Emeritus President of the Academy in 1993. On this period, the government recognized the Academy as an active element of the national S&T system. As a consequence, FINEP, a financing agency of the federal government, granted substantial financial support for the execution of programs submitted by the Academy, mainly the realization of scientific expeditions, the coordination of research programs, the publication of books and the implementation of agreements on scientific cooperation with foreign scientific organizations. The agreements signed with the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the John E. Fogarty International Center for Advanced Study in Health Sciences were among those.

In the 1980’s government support for such activities was greatly reduced, although the international agreements were maintained and a new one, with the Académie des Sciences of the Institut de France, was signed.

The 1990’s marked the renewal of government financial support to the Academy, which enabled it to promote new programs, to invest in the diffusion of scientific knowledge, to produce TV programs dedicated to environmental issues, to expand scientific cooperation with other institutions.

Since 1952 the sections of the Academy are: Mathematics, Physical Sciences, Chemical Sciences, Earth Sciences and Biological Sciences. In 1996, when the Academy commemorated its 80th anniversary, a new section was created to cover the area of Engineering Sciences. A new division was established in 1999, when four new areas were created: Biomedical Sciences, Health Sciences, Agrarian Sciences and Human Sciences. These constitute the ten sections in which the Academy is presently divided. Throughout its history, the Academy has elected 42 Boards of Directors that were headed by 16 presidents, being these scientists from the most different areas. Such plurality much enlightened the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, strengthening its presence in the scientific community and, consequently, in Brazilian society as a whole.

A series of statutes and bylaws govern and define the activities of the Brazilian Academy of Science. A General Assembly held in September 1999 approved the current Statutes.

The Academy comprehends the following categories of permanent members: Full Members, Foreign Members and Collaborating Members. There is no limitation to the number of members in any of the categories. The Full Members are Brazilian scientists with distinguished merit. The Foreign Members are foreign scientists of recognized merit that have significantly contributed to the advancement of science in Brazil. The Collaborating Members are persons that have rendered relevant services to the Academy or to the national development of science. Collaborating membership is granted through a substantiated proposal of the Board of Directors, submitted to the approval of the General Assembly. The Academy, at the judgment of its Board, may grant the title of Institutional Member to legal entities interested in the advancement of science and technology that provide financial support for its activities. The institutional membership has a temporary character, requiring annual revalidation by the Board of Directors. The candidacy for new members shall be indicated by a Selection Committee comprised by the president of the Academy, who chairs it, and by other twelve full members, elected by the General Assembly. When in 1999 the Academy redistributed full members within its 10 areas, the Associate Member category that had been created in 1949 was extinguished. This decision was based on the comprehension that there was no reason for the maintenance of two different levels of association, since the sole criterion for membership is merit.

Annually, the Selection Committee will analyze the curricula of the proposed candidates and consider the pronouncement of the full members of each of the specialized areas. Based on this, the Selection Committee will then indicate for election, by the General Assembly, the candidacies for Full and Foreign Members. By this means, the Brazilian Academy of Sciences elects, each year, about twenty scientists, distributed over ten areas of knowledge (mathematical sciences, physical sciences, chemical sciences, earth sciences, biological sciences, biomedical sciences, health sciences, agricultural sciences, engineering sciences and human sciences), as well as about five renowned foreign researchers.

The Brazilian Academy of Sciences recently instituted the category of Affiliated Members, adding to the membership a number of talented young scientists every year that will participate in the activities of the Academy for a period of five years, non-renewable, thus bringing a great dynamism and renewal to the institution.

Moreover, the Academy has created six regional vice-presidencies in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais West and Central, South, North, and Northeast, aiming to promote its actions nationally. Their main objective is to identify talents in the peripheral areas, stimulate the entry of new talents as affiliates to the Academy and mainly to suit the projects and plans of the Academy to the regional diversity of the country. Closely related to the decentralization process, the admission of new talents in the Academy is intended to be a stimulus to the strengthening of local communities and a strong obstacle to emigration, thus making a contribution to both, the reduction of the “brain drain” at the international level and for the establishment of talent in deprived areas.

Currently the Academy has 73 female members of the total of 643 members, which corresponds to approximately 11.4%. Nowadays, about 52% of the Brazilian researchers linked to the area of innovation are females.

A Board of Directors comprising the president, the vice-president and five directors, plus the five regional vice-presidents conducts the affairs of the Academy. The full members of the Academy elect the board of directors for a three-year term, reelection being allowed. Each year, the Full Members are invited to propose candidates for election as Full, Foreigner or Collaborating Members. All members of the Academy meet to elect new members, taking into account the recommendations of the Selection Committee. The board has several meetings in extraordinary character according to the emergence of new themes, and some in ordinary character, mainly the Annual Meeting and the Meetings of the Selection Committee and Board of Directors.

Since 1997, for the induction of new members, the Academy celebrates its Annual Meeting, and has enriched the ceremony with the organization of a dense set of activities, which always include a scientific seminar, an assessment of the actions undertaken during the previous year, in addition to an informal dinner of fraternization, which complement the formal ceremony, involving authorities from the federal, state and municipal levels. Due to the presence of the scientific elite of the country, this ceremony has been used by the Ministers of Science and Technology to inform the scientific community about the accomplishments of his administration. Lectures by exponents of the international scientific community are also held at this occasion.

The Brazilian Academy of Sciences, in compliance with its statute, conducts a series of regular meetings of the Selection Committee (at least once a year) and the Board of Directors (at least four in a year). These meetings are the events that allow the Academy set it’s strategies of action and to give continuity to the renewal of members.

The Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências (Annals of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences), published since 1929, is the official journal of the Academy and the oldest Brazilian scientific publication. This journal publishes original research findings in the fields covered by the Academy, as well as abstracts of communications presented in its regular sessions. Since 1999 the Annals are published in English, assuring a more intense dissemination of the published articles. The Annals are currently indexed in the Bibliography and Index of Geology, BIOSIS, Chemical Abstracts, Index Medicus Medline, Institut de L´Information Scientifique et Technique (INIST), ISI alerting services, ISI current contents, ISI science citation index expanded, LILACS, Mathematical reviews, Periodica, Scielo and Zentralblatt MATH. Access to the articles on-line is available since volume 72, number 1, March 2000.

The Brazilian Biological Society edited the Revista Brasileira de Biologia (Brazilian Journal of Biology) from 1940 to 1970. From 1970 to 1998, the Academy was responsible for this publication. Since 1998, the Instituto Internacional de Ecologia (International Institute of Ecology) assumed the journal, which presently publishes its articles in English. The publication is dedicated to research in all branches of biological sciences, giving special emphasis to the areas of zoology and neotropical botanic.

Pesquisa Antártica Brasileira (Brazilian Antarctica Research) is published since 1989 by the Academy in an agreement with the Interministerial Commission for Ocean Resources (CIRM), being financed by the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). This publication discloses research developed at the ambit of the Brazilian Antarctica Program (PROANTAR). Besides, the Academy also publishes significant scientific studies developed in the scope of its advising activities.

The Brazilian Academy of Sciences is an independent, non-governmental, scientific organization. It acts both as an honorific scientific society and an adviser to government, when requested to conduct policy and technical studies. The Academy is supported by contributions from its membership, as well as by grants from governmental agencies; mainly those related to the Ministry of Science and Technology: the Financing Agency for Studies and Projects (FINEP) and the National Research Council (CNPq). In recent years, the Academy also received grants from the Ministry of Environment and from the Ministry of Health.

The Brazilian Academy of Science traditionally gives scientific prizes to encourage the dissemination of original work. The "Einstein Award" (consisting of a gold medal and a diploma) was the first prize granted by the institution, set up in July 5th, 1925 by the academician Mario de Andrade Ramos. This award was given nine times, from 1933 to 1964. The "Mello Leitão Award" was established in 1949 by the family of the ex-President of the Academy, Prof. Candido de Mello Leitão, and was given to the authors of the best works on zoology or biogeography, especially written for the appreciation of the prize’s commission. This prize was awarded three times, in 1951, 56 and 58. The "Costa Lima Award", established in 1962 by entomologist Carlos Alberto Campos Seabra, as a tribute to the eminent scientist Angelo Moreira da Costa Lima and was intended to be given to the Brazilian researchers who have most remarkably contributed to knowledge of Entomology. The Award, consisting of a certain amount of cash, was granted eight times from 1962 to 1979. The "Arthur Moses Award" was established in 1969, in honor of the Emeritus President of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, Arthur Moses. This Award was intended to be given to Brazilian researcher or to foreign researcher rooted in the country, authors of original works in the field of biology, published in the last biennium in the Proceedings of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. It was awarded twice in 1970 and 1972.

The "IBM award in Research and Technological Development" was established in 1978 under the auspices of IBM-Brazil. It was granted to Brazilian researchers or to foreign researchers rooted in Brazil, which have given outstanding contribution to the technological development of the country. The Award was constituted of a gold medal, an amount of cash equivalent to U.S. $ 10,000.00 and diploma. This award distinguished six scientists from 1978 to 1988. The "Medal Augusto Ruschi" was established by resolution of the Board of the Academy at the meeting on August 29th, 1985, consisting of a gold medal and a diploma, to be granted, every four years, from 1986, rewarding works in the fields of Ecology and Conservation of Nature. The Selection Committee of the Award has granted it five times from 1986 to 2002.

Currently the Brazilian Academy of Sciences is responsible for the establishment of an independent jury of high standing and international recognition to elect the winners of Prizes given by L´Oreal and the winners of the main scientific prize given by the Brazilian Government (Ordem Nacional do Mérito Científico).

The incontestable quality and merit of studies coordinated by the Academy has generated an increasing demand for appraisals in areas that are of high importance to national development. Several projects have been developed to answer to these demands like the one established for the sustainable development of the Amazon Region; another one established together with the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) was the Microgravity Project, which has as its objective the development of scientific and technological research in microgravity ambient. These studies will initially be developed in rockets, preparing Brazil's participation in future research at the International Space Station. A third one works towards the improvement of the national program for the management of water resources and the development of studies to enable the rational use of water, the training of managers of watersheds, and to increase the awareness of society to the rational use of water.

There is a general agreement among the Brazilian scientific community on the need to develop a realistic strategy to confront climate change. This strategy should focus on the search for innovative solutions that help change the pattern of intensive consumption, associated with public policies, aiming to protect the population from the effects of climate change. To this end the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences held in 2007 the First Brazilian Symposium on Global Environmental Change, in Rio de Janeiro. The results of it led the Academy to create a study group to assess the current national scientific knowledge in this area and to draw up proposals to enlarge it, seeking to establish a support to national policies on climate change and to train new researchers capable to deal with the new challenges posed by the subject. Another priority area arose of the consensus in the scientific community that Brazil needs to build a research network to keep the lead in the sector of sustainable production of biofuels. Developed countries have already realized the importance of biofuels and the world's major oil companies are searching for the so-called "second generation of fuel" or "lignocelluloses fuels”. At the same time there is a big controversy on the sustainability of the crops for fuel. The Academy aims to draw up a study to present the current stage of research in Brazil and its prospects in the coming years, at medium and long term.

The government frequently consults the Academy regarding priority matters in the national health plan. Therefore the Academy decided to promote and elaborate diagnostic criteria aimed at the evaluation of the actual conditions of the biological sciences and health in the country. A study group was created to develop the Project of Biomedical Cooperation with the National Health Policy, covering the areas of pharmacology, biochemistry, physiology, neuroscience, biophysics, bioengineering, microbiology (parasitological research, immunology, and virology), genetics and clinical investigations.

Statistical data has revealed that physical, sensory and mental disabilities affect over 6 million people in Brazil. On other hand Political action is very weak and the support given by the many institutions to these individuals is inadequate and not geared towards helping to integrate these patients in our society. Through this project, the Academy intends to identify how the available scientific practical knowledge may provide social benefits to the inclusion of PPD.

Concerned with the deficiency in the literacy in science, the Academy decided, in 2000 to create a program viewing the diagnosis of the difficulties of the teaching and learning processes of science in Brazilian middle and high schools. The objective of this project is to provide reflections seeking the improvement of science literacy, through a set of recommendations on what understandings and ways of thinking are essential for all citizens in a world shaped by science and technology. This program has a long-term scope, pursuits and the betterment of the teaching of science in schools throughout the country.

The Brazilian Academy of Sciences participates in international activities through the International Council for Science (ICSU) and its Unions and is responsible for the national Brazilian commissions for several multidisciplinary programs, like IGBP, IHDP, IGCP, IWCO and ILP.

The Academy also works at the international level through the Global Network of Academies of Sciences (IAP); the InterAcademy Council (IAC); the InterAcademy Medical Panel; the Inter American Network of Academies of Sciences (IANAS) stressing priority to stimulate the establishment of a cooperation network between the Latin-American and Caribbean academies; and the IAP and IANAS program for Capacity Building in Water Resources Management. The Academy is also active in Regional independent programs like the Latin-American Network of Earth Sciences (RELACT); the Geological Evolution of the South American Continent Project ; and the Brazilian Commission of Geological and Paleobiological Sites (SIGEP)

The Brazilian Academy of Sciences has traditionally been engaged in international exchanges aimed at promoting cooperation between Brazilian scientists and the international community. Agreements were implemented with the Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences for the last ten years and, more recently, with the French Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, the National Academy of Sciences of India, the Korean Academy of Science and Technology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.