French Academy of Sciences

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Colbert Presenting the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV in 1667, by Henri Testelin; in the background appears the new Paris Observatory Colbert Presenting the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV in 1667.PNG
Colbert Presenting the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV in 1667, by Henri Testelin; in the background appears the new Paris Observatory

The French Academy of Sciences (French: Académie des sciences) is a learned society, founded in 1666 by Louis XIV at the suggestion of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, to encourage and protect the spirit of French scientific research. It was at the forefront of scientific developments in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, and is one of the earliest Academies of Sciences.

A learned society is an organisation that exists to promote an academic discipline, profession, or a group of related disciplines such as the arts. Membership may be open to all, may require possession of some qualification, or may be an honour conferred by election.

Louis XIV of France King of France and Navarra, from 1643 to 1715

Louis XIV, known as Louis the Great or the Sun King, was a monarch of the House of Bourbon who reigned as King of France from 1643 until his death in 1715. Starting on 14 May 1643 when Louis was 4 years old, his reign of 72 years and 110 days is the longest recorded of any monarch of a sovereign country in European history. In the age of absolutism in Europe, Louis XIV's France was a leader in the growing centralisation of power.

Jean-Baptiste Colbert French politician

Jean-Baptiste Colbert was a French politician who served as the Minister of Finances of France from 1661 to 1683 under the rule of King Louis XIV. His relentless hard work and thrift made him an esteemed minister. He achieved a reputation for his work of improving the state of French manufacturing and bringing the economy back from the brink of bankruptcy. Historians note that, despite Colbert's efforts, France actually became increasingly impoverished because of the King's excessive spending on wars. Colbert worked to create a favourable balance of trade and increase France's colonial holdings.


Currently headed by Sébastien Candel (President of the Academy), it is one of the five Academies of the Institut de France.

Sébastien Candel is a French physicist, Emeritus Professor of École Centrale Paris, and the current President of the French Academy of Sciences (2017-2018).

Institut de France French learned society, grouping five académies

The Institut de France is a French learned society, grouping five académies, the most famous of which is the Académie française.


A heroic depiction of the activities of the Academy from 1698 Academie des Sciences 1698.jpg
A heroic depiction of the activities of the Academy from 1698

The Academy of Sciences traces its origin to Colbert's plan to create a general academy. He chose a small group of scholars who met on 22 December 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. In contrast to its British counterpart, the Academy was founded as an organ of government. The Academy was expected to remain apolitical, and to avoid discussion of religious and social issues (Conner, 2005, p. 385).

Royal Society English learned society for science

The President, Council and Fellows of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, commonly known as the Royal Society, is a learned society. Founded on 28 November 1660, it was granted a royal charter by King Charles II as "The Royal Society". It is the oldest national scientific institution in the world. The society is the United Kingdom's and Commonwealth of Nations' Academy of Sciences and fulfils a number of roles: promoting science and its benefits, recognising excellence in science, supporting outstanding science, providing scientific advice for policy, fostering international and global co-operation, education and public engagement.

Louis XIV Visiting the Royal Academy of Sciences, (Sebastien Leclerc I, France, 1671) Sebastien Leclerc I, Louis XIV Visiting the Royal Academy of Sciences, 1671.jpg
Louis XIV Visiting the Royal Academy of Sciences, (Sébastien Leclerc I, France, 1671)

On 20 January 1699, Louis XIV gave the Company its first rules. The Academy received the name of Royal Academy of Sciences and was installed in the Louvre in Paris. Following this reform, the Academy began publishing a volume each year with information on all the work done by its members and obituaries for members who had died. This reform also codified the method by which members of the Academy could receive pensions for their work. [1] On 8 August 1793, the National Convention abolished all the academies. On 22 August 1795, a National Institute of Sciences and Arts was put in place, bringing together the old academies of the sciences, literature and arts, among them the Académie française and the Académie des sciences. Almost all the old members of the previously abolished Académie were formally re-elected and retook their ancient seats. Among the exceptions was Dominique, comte de Cassini, who refused to take his seat. Membership in the Academy was not restricted to scientists: in 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte was elected a member of the Academy and three years later a president in connection with his Egyptian expedition, which had a scientific component. [2] In 1816, the again renamed "Royal Academy of Sciences" became autonomous, while forming part of the Institute of France; the head of State became its patron. In the Second Republic, the name returned to Académie des sciences. During this period, the Academy was funded by and accountable to the Ministry of Public Instruction. [3] The Academy came to control French patent laws in the course of the eighteenth century, acting as the liaison of artisans' knowledge to the public domain. As a result, academicians dominated technological activities in France (Conner, 2005, p. 385). The Academy proceedings were published under the name Comptes rendus de l'Académie des Sciences (1835–1965). The Comptes rendus is now a journal series with seven titles. The publications can be found on site of the French National Library.

Louvre Art museum and Historic site in Paris, France

The Louvre, or the Louvre Museum, is the world's largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris, France. A central landmark of the city, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the city's 1st arrondissement. Approximately 38,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 72,735 square metres. In 2018, the Louvre was the world's most visited art museum, receiving 10.2 million visitors.

National Convention single-chamber assembly in France from 21 September 1792 to 26 October 1795

The National Convention was the first government of the French Revolution, following the two-year National Constituent Assembly and the one-year Legislative Assembly. Created after the great insurrection of 10 August 1792, it was the first French government organized as a republic, abandoning the monarchy altogether. The Convention sat as a single-chamber assembly from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795.

Académie française Pre-eminent council for the French language

The Académie française is the pre-eminent French council for matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution, it was restored as a division of the Institut de France in 1803 by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is the oldest of the five académies of the institute.

In 1818 the French Academy of Sciences launched a competition to explain the properties of light. The civil engineer Augustin-Jean Fresnel entered this competition by submitting a new wave theory of light. [4] Siméon Denis Poisson, one of the members of the judging committee, studied Fresnel's theory in detail. Being a supporter of the particle-theory of light, he looked for a way to disprove it. Poisson thought that he had found a flaw when he demonstrate that Fresnel's theory predicts that an on-axis bright spot would exist in the shadow of a circular obstacle, where there should be complete darkness according to the particle-theory of light. The Poisson spot is not easily observed in every-day situations, so it was only natural for Poisson to interpret it as an absurd result and that it should disprove Fresnel's theory. However, the head of the committee, Dominique-François-Jean Arago, and who incidentally later became Prime Minister of France, decided to perform the experiment in more detail. He molded a 2-mm metallic disk to a glass plate with wax. [5] To everyone's surprise he succeeded in observing the predicted spot, which convinced most scientists of the wave-nature of light.

Augustin-Jean Fresnel French engineer and physicist

Augustin-Jean Fresnel was a French civil engineer and physicist whose research in optics led to the almost unanimous acceptance of the wave theory of light, excluding any remnant of Newton's corpuscular theory, from the late 1830s  until the end of the 19th century.

Siméon Denis Poisson French mathematician, mechanician and physicist

Baron Siméon Denis Poisson FRS FRSE was a French mathematician, engineer, and physicist, who made several scientific advances.

François Arago French mathematician, physicist, astronomer and politician

Dominique François Jean Arago, known simply as François Arago, was a French mathematician, physicist, astronomer, freemason, supporter of the carbonari and politician.

Illustration from Acta Eruditorum (1737) where was published Machines et inventions approuvees par l'Academie Royale des Sciences Acta Eruditorum - I orologi, 1737 - BEIC 13458392.jpg
Illustration from Acta Eruditorum (1737) where was published Machines et inventions approuvées par l'Academie Royale des Sciences

For three centuries women were not allowed as members of the Academy. This meant that many women scientists were excluded, including two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie, Nobel winner Irène Joliot-Curie, mathematician Sophie Germain, and many other deserving women scientists. The first woman admitted as a correspondent member was a student of Curie's, Marguerite Perey, in 1962. The first female full member was Yvonne Choquet-Bruhat in 1979. [ citation needed ]

Marie Curie French-Polish physicist and chemist

Marie Skłodowska Curie was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences. She was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.

Irène Joliot-Curie French scientist

Irène Joliot-Curie was a French and Polish scientist, the daughter of Marie Curie and Pierre Curie and the wife of Frédéric Joliot-Curie. Jointly with her husband, Joliot-Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. This made the Curies the family with the most Nobel laureates to date. Both children of the Joliot-Curies, Hélène and Pierre, are also esteemed scientists.

Sophie Germain French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher

Marie-Sophie Germain was a French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher. Despite initial opposition from her parents and difficulties presented by society, she gained education from books in her father's library including ones by Leonhard Euler and from correspondence with famous mathematicians such as Lagrange, Legendre, and Gauss. One of the pioneers of elasticity theory, she won the grand prize from the Paris Academy of Sciences for her essay on the subject. Her work on Fermat's Last Theorem provided a foundation for mathematicians exploring the subject for hundreds of years after. Because of prejudice against her sex, she was unable to make a career out of mathematics, but she worked independently throughout her life. Before her death, Gauss had recommended that she be awarded an honorary degree, but that never occurred. On June 27, 1831, she died from breast cancer. At the centenary of her life, a street and a girls’ school were named after her. The Academy of Sciences established the Sophie Germain Prize in her honor.

The Academy today

The Institut de France in Paris where the Academy is housed Institut France.jpg
The Institut de France in Paris where the Academy is housed

Today the Academy is one of five academies comprising the Institut de France. Its members are elected for life. Currently there are 150 full members, 300 corresponding members, and 120 foreign associates. They are divided into two scientific groups: the Mathematical and Physical sciences and their applications and the Chemical, Biological, Geological and Medical sciences and their applications.

Medals, awards and prizes

Each year, the Academy of Sciences distributes about 80 prizes. These include:

People of the Academy

The following are incomplete lists of the officers of the Academy. See also Category:Officers of the French Academy of Sciences.

For a list of the Academy's members past and present, see Category:Members of the French Academy of Sciences


Source: French Academy of Sciences


Permanent secretaries

Mathematical Sciences

Physical Sciences

Chemistry and Biology

See also


  1. Moak, David, ed. (2007). The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan LIbrary. pp. 54–55. Archived from the original on March 31, 2015.
  2. Alder, Ken (2002), The Measure of All Things – The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error that Transformed the World, The Free Press, ISBN   0-7432-1675-X
  3. Crosland 1992
  4. Fresnel, A.J. (1868), OEuvres Completes 1, Paris: Imprimerie impériale
  5. Fresnel, A.J. (1868), OEuvres Completes 1, Paris: Imprimerie impériale, p. 369
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 October 2014. Retrieved 13 August 2014.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  7. French wikipedia article; both "Monpetit Archived 2 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine " and "Montpetit Archived 14 January 2015 at the Wayback Machine " is found in Academy publications.
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 November 2014. Retrieved 12 February 2015.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)

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