Treasures Academy of Sciences

Treasures Academy of Sciences

toThe dome of the Institut de France does not only contain a house French Academy. There was also another group of high minds: an association of scientists created by Colbert, on December 22, 1666, “to take science out of scholastic treatises and to find the foundations of knowledge in the logical study of the results of experiments,” he notes. Louis XIV’s minister in his writings.
Designed to encourage research and contribute to scientific progress, this ‘Parliament of Scholars’ took a model from the Italian Reale Accademia dei Lincei (founded in Rome in 1603) and the English Royal Society in London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge (opened in 1660). ). At the time of its creation, the French Academy of Sciences had sixty members placed under the personal protection of the King. In fact, the king consults them to guide his policy.

CNRS for old system

“It’s a bit like the National Center for Scientific Research of the time,” joked mathematician Etienne Guise, one of the permanent trustees of the prestigious institution. The “Company,” as it is called, owns an astronomical observatory, the Faubourg Saint-Jacques, and various laboratories in Paris, where the most cutting-edge work of its time is carried out. Specifically in physics and chemistry. First established in the Louvre Palace, the Academy moved in 1815 to the former Quatre-Nations College, built by Mazarin on the banks of the Seine.

Read alsoEcologist Sandra Lavorel receives the gold medal of the National Center for Scientific ResearchFrom Fontenelle to Buffon, from d’Alembert to Lavoisier, via Monge and Arago, thousands of scholars will pass through it. Each one advances in science and engages his peers, sometimes through meetings with old-fashioned names (general assemblies called “secret committees”), and advances his or her favorite subject.

In this case, Bayley in 1784 refuted the idea of ​​the possibility of the existence of magnetic “healing fluids,” as claimed by the “magnetizer” Mesmer. It was within these walls that the metric system was conceived, which was adopted in France by decree of the eighteenth year of the third year (April 7, 1795) before it became an international standard.

In December 1824, Champollion explained, also before this assembly, the method by which he had managed to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs – two years after he had done so before the Académie des Inscriptions et des Beaux-Lettres. It was also at the Academy of Sciences that in 1864 he opposed a strong denial of the general public’s belief in “spontaneous generations” demonstrating that in a closed environment, when there is no pollution of the surrounding air, life cannot arise.

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The Council, Parliament of Scholars

The Academy is still active, and today brings together 250 scientists, astronomers, mathematicians, physicists, and chemists, in addition to doctors, botanists, oceanographers, and zoologists, distributed among eight specialized departments. It meets every Tuesday “to undertake reflections on political, ethical and societal issues raised by current major scientific questions,” says Etienne Guise, a mathematician and elected member of this society in 2004. This is because its members always play an advisory role to political authority.

“Last month, the President of the Republic asked us again to issue two opinions on matters where our expertise could be useful. “We also respond to requests from other stakeholders: ministries, local authorities or public institutions, such as the Port of Fort-de-France which were concerned about rising water levels and who asked us for concrete means to combat this phenomenon.” Étienne Guisse continues.

Read alsoEmmanuel Charpentier: “I have not said my last word” The Academy does not simply make recommendations about the guidelines that public decision-makers should follow when a topic is of interest to science. It publishes reports aimed at informing as many people as possible about the latest developments in science. Therefore, studies have been devoted to RNA vaccines or cannabis-based therapeutic trials, to name a few available on its website.

The Foundation also organizes conferences aimed at assessing the state of knowledge on a wide range of issues. The next session, devoted to global warming in the spring of 2024, should be an opportunity to shake off the reputation of climate skeptics that has stuck to the academy since the time he undermined its most famous member, former minister Claude Allegri. IPCC conclusions on environmental matters in press.

At the same time, the Company continues to support research through several awards representing a total budget of approximately 2 million euros, thus playing the role of sponsor. A small number of its members also participate in committees aimed at reviewing school and university programs within the Ministry of National Education and Higher Education.

Science Hour

The Academy is a showcase for scientific thought and a place for interdisciplinary exchange, and maintains impressive archives. These extend under the attic of the west wing of the Quai de Conti on approximately 2.2 kilometers of shelves. Julien Bomart, former head of the Louvre archives, is in charge. With the help of Associate Professor of Physics Mark Keifer, who has just joined the Foundation, he is preparing to launch an ambitious project to digitize the documents in these reserves.

Read alsoThe France Institute embarks on a podcast adventure Karim Ben Salamah, who reviews the Academy’s records from morning to evening, says, “We have begun work on indexing all the awards that the Academy has awarded since its establishment in order to create a database that researchers can refer to.” a house. “The legacy of the Academy of Sciences certainly deserves to be better known,” says Julien Bomart. In addition to the sometimes voluminous biographical files on each of the 2,700 scholars who were part of the Academy for three and a half centuries, we can find in these archives fascinating correspondence from the greatest French scholars.

“Our collections include paintings, including a wonderful portrait of Paul Langevin by Picasso, and panels of beautiful drawings produced by the greatest naturalists,” adds Etienne Guise, showing a self-portrait of Ampere housed in his library. The scientist has done this work since he was elected permanent secretary of this academy four years ago. He then records short videos that are broadcast on social networks to raise awareness of the institution and doubles as podcasts that are broadcast on Canal Académie, the online platform of the Institut de France.

Archives are not limited to inventions or discoveries that have contributed to advancing the state of knowledge. In addition to the reports of the most prestigious courses – which Jules Verne read avidly and found there material for science fiction novels – the Academy’s archives include an impressive collection of old books in which a rare encyclopedia of knowledge figures prominently.H a century. There is also a large collection of inscriptions and medals, dozens of statues honoring the personalities of great scientists: Fresnel, Cuvier, Faraday, Humboldt… but also clothing. It’s a fun game in which the foundation regularly allows curators to come in and borrow pieces.

Read alsoSecrets of Paris – The Secret of Avenue Tresor “The strangest thing we keep is without a doubt an envelope containing a piece of the heart of Saint Louis,” smiles Etienne Guisse. remains, Found in 1843 in Sainte-Chapelle, was analyzed by a chemist from the Academy (called Simon), who saw fit to give the remainder of the organic matter to the Permanent Secretary of Time. The question now is what will we do with it: return it to the Catholic Church, as some recommend? Or put it in a museum like the Cluny Museum dedicated to the Middle Ages? “We will follow the recommendations of the French Inter-Ministerial Archives Service (SIAF), which was asked to solve this problem,” explains Etienne Guis.

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Meanwhile, the archives of the Academy of Sciences continue to be enriched. “In auction rooms, we regularly come across works or correspondence that could potentially complement our collection,” says Julien Bomart. The organization also receives a large number of messages. “I get three messages a day on average,” says Etienne Guis, explaining the messages received the same morning.

The first, written in the beautiful handwriting of a retired engineer, presents about ten pages of complex equations. Its author says: “I am sending you herewith the simplified proof of Fermat’s Theorem.” The second studies the Riemann hypothesis. Its sender claims to explain this unsolved mathematical problem since 1859, which is based on a conjecture made by a German mathematician. According to her, “the non-trivial zeros of the zeta function all have a real part equal to 1/2.” As for the latter, it simply raises the possibility that the moon’s rotation is not what astronomers think it is. “Some of the letters are a little strange,” admits the Permanent Secretary, who nevertheless takes the trouble to respond to each of them, referring to experts the writings that seem serious to him “so that they can give their opinion when I am not competent.”

At the end of each week, the academy becomes a school again. Since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, the Foundation has provided support courses for dozens of young refugees From combat zones. This initiative has enabled an entire age group to better integrate into French schools. Who doesn’t dream of being a Nobel Prize winner in physics or a Field Medal winner as a private tutor?

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