News from the National Academy of Sciences

March 1, 2013

NAS Celebrates 150 Years of Service to the Nation

WASHINGTON — The National Academy of Sciences turns 150 this weekend, and will celebrate throughout the year with a wide range of activities that focus not only on the Academy's lasting impact on society but also on the story of science itself. Beginning when President Abraham Lincoln signed the congressional charter creating the National Academy of Sciences on March 3, 1863, the Academy's independent, authoritative advice on matters relating to science, engineering, and medicine has been the basis for some of the nation's finest achievements.

"Even in the midst of the Civil War, Congress and President Lincoln understood the value of science and the importance of an independent, nonprofit organization that could advise the government on scientific and technical matters," said Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences. "As a result, the National Academy of Sciences has been able to both encourage and draw upon the best that science, engineering, and medicine have to offer to help the nation achieve unprecedented prosperity and security. The Academy is committed to continuing and expanding on that success for many years to come."

Despite the contentious times, President Lincoln and Congress recognized the need for an independent, scientific advisory body "to investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art," as required by the Academy's 1863 charter. One of the Academy's earliest studies helped the Civil War effort by improving compass navigation for the Union's fleet of ironclad warships.

The National Research Council, created under the NAS charter in 1916 by executive order of President Woodrow Wilson, extended the scope of the NAS in its advisory role. The National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine were founded under the NAS charter in 1964 and 1970, respectively. Together, the NAS, Research Council, NAE, and IOM—without a direct appropriation from the government—enlist the aid of the nation's most knowledgeable scientists, engineers, health professionals, and other experts who volunteer their time to produce reports that have led to some of the most significant and lasting improvements in the health, education, and welfare of all the world's citizens.

The Academy has worked uninterrupted through two world wars, the Great Depression, and many other national crises, providing the foundation for some of the U.S.'s most significant accomplishments:

  • Creating a national forest system and the National Park Service;
  • Forming the U.S. Geological Survey;
  • Opening the Panama Canal;
  • Building a national highway system;
  • Establishing uniform nutritional guidelines;
  • Launching the U.S.'s first earth-orbiting satellite;
  • Developing ways to mass-produce penicillin and other lifesaving medicines;
  • Mobilizing conservation and protection of natural resources and the environment; and
  • Mapping the human genome.

Today, the Academy continues to advise the nation on many complex issues, including how to respond to climate change, strengthen the U.S. economy in the global marketplace, solve the nation's obesity epidemic, improve the safety of offshore oil drilling, and enhance drug safety.

Just as it has from its inception, the Academy also continues to recognize and promote scientific excellence by electing individuals to NAS membership—considered one of the highest professional honors in science—and by presenting prizes and awards for outstanding achievements in many disciplines. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), established in 1914, advances the vitality of the scientific enterprise by broadly disseminating rigorous, peer-reviewed research in almost every field of science.

As part of its 150th celebration, the National Academy of Sciences has launched a new website that features important milestones in its history, lectures by prominent NAS members, and highlights from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The anniversary will also be commemorated at the National Academy of Sciences 150th annual meeting April 27-30, and at special events throughout the year.

William Kearney, Director of Media Relations
Molly Galvin, Senior Media Relations Officer
Luwam Yeibio, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail

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