French Academy of Sciences

French Academy of Sciences

Colbert Presenting the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV in 1667

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.

Today, it is one of the five Académies of Institut de France.


  • History 1
  • The Academy today 2
  • Medals, awards and prizes 3
  • People of the Academy 4
    • Presidents 4.1
    • Treasurers 4.2
    • Permanent secretaries 4.3
    • Mathematical Sciences 4.4
    • Physical Sciences 4.5
    • Chemistry and Biology 4.6
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


A heroic depiction of the activities of the Academy from 1698

The Academy of Sciences owes 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).

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 publications can be found on site of the French National Library.

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 argued that a consequence of Fresnel's theory was that there would exist an on-axis bright spot 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.

For three centuries women were not allowed as members of the Academy, excluding two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie, Nobel winner Irène Joliot-Curie, mathematician Sophie Germain, and many other deserving female 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.

The Academy today

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:

  • the Grande Médaille, awarded annually, in rotation, in the relevant disciplines of each division of the Academy, to a French or foreign scholar who has contributed to the development of science in a decisive way.
  • the Lalande Prize, awarded from 1802 through 1970, for outstanding achievement in astronomy
  • the Richard Lounsbery Award, jointly with the National Academy of Sciences
  • the Prix Jacques Herbrand – for mathematics and physics
  • the Louis Bachelier Prize for major contributions to mathematical modeling in finance [6]
  • the Prix Michel Montpetit for computer science and applied mathematics, awarded since 1977[7]

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


  • ? -1788 Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon
  • 1788–1791 Mathieu Tillet

Permanent secretaries

Mathematical Sciences

Physical Sciences

Chemistry and Biology

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ Alder, Ken (2002), The Measure of All Things – The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error that Transformed the World,  
  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. ^
  7. ^ French WorldHeritage article; both "Monpetit" and "petittMon" is found in Academy publications.
  8. ^


  • Crosland, Maurice P. (1992), Science Under Control: The French Academy of Sciences, 1795–1914, Cambridge University Press,  
  • Stroup, Alice (1987), Royal Funding of the Parisian Académie Royale Des Sciences During the 1690s, DIANE Publishing,  
  • Sturdy, David J. (1995), Science and Social Status: The Members of the Academie Des Sciences 1666–1750, Boydell & Brewer,  

External links

  • Official website (French) – English-language version
  • Complete listing of current members
  • Notes on the Académie des Sciences from the Scholarly Societies project (includes information on the society journals)
  • Search the Proceedings of the Académie des sciences in the French National Library (search item: Comptes Rendus)
  • Comptes rendus de l'Académie des sciences. Série 1, Mathématique in Gallica, the digital library of the BnF.