Anniversaire de l'Académie des sciences

Jean-François BachCatherine BréchignacJean-François Bach and Catherine Bréchignac,
Secrétaires perpétuels of the Académie des Sciences

On its creation in December 1666, King Louis XIV entrusted the Académie des Sciences with the mission of establishing exchanges of discoveries with the foreign academies (entrer en commerce de découvertes avec les académies étrangères). The presence of a stranger among the first members of the Académie – the physicist, mathematician and astronomer Christian Huygens – is indeed symbolic of this.

In the middle of the 18th Century, as science was booming, most notably in Europe, the international reputation of the Académie was at its highest. King Frederic II of Prussia thus asked Académie Member Pierre Louis de Maupertuis to rejuvenate his Academy in Berlin, taking as an example the Academy France had put into place. The Académie also stood out when Maupertuis and Charles Marie de la Condamine made the prestigious expeditions to Lapland and Peru, where studied the shape of Earth and confirmed Newton’s theory on the oblateness of our planet. In 1790, it was again the Académie des Sciences that was entrusted by the Assemblée Nationale Constituante (French National Constituent Assembly) with the difficult task to unify the systems of weights and measures that coexisted in France. Under the direction of Antoine Lavoisier, the Commission des Poids et Mesures (Commission of Weights and Measures) of the Académie would achieve such unification, thus giving birth to the metrical system.

Century after century, the international influence of the Académie is still there for all to see: the Académie is now one of the five most highly regarded academies in the world. Since the first exchanges of great European scientific figures in the 17th and 18th Century, the Académie has considerably expanded its activities at the international level. It is indeed an active and influent member of the great European and global scientific networks. Through its bilateral agreements, it carries out science diplomacy initiatives, which is essential for promoting science and, also, fostering exchanges among scientists of countries whose diplomatic relations are dwindling. Lastly, the Académie has traditionally been proactive, and is ever more resolutely so, in the whole sphere of actions that aid the development of Southern countries. The present document provides a detailed account of this crucial task in international relations, carried out by the Académie as a reminder that science knows no boundary – is universal.

Bearing this in mind, the Académie des Sciences will, in autumn 2016, as a key moment in the celebration events of its 350th anniversary, gather the leaders of all the foreign academies with which it has set cooperative agreements. On this occasion, delegations of more than 50 countries will have the opportunity to deliver a message with the Académie des Sciences that will highlight the vital role of science in the progress of humanity.

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