The Pontifical Academy of Sciences (Italian: Pontificia accademia delle scienze, Latin: Pontificia Academia Scientiarum) is a scientific academy of the Vatican City, established in 1936 by Pope Pius XI, and thriving with the blessing of the Papacy ever since. Its aim is to promote the progress of the mathematical, physical, and natural sciences and the study of related epistemological problems. The Academy has its origins in the Accademia Pontificia dei Nuovi Lincei ("Pontifical Academy of the New Lynxes"), founded in 1847 as a more closely supervised successor to the Accademia dei Lincei ("Academy of Lynxes") established in Rome in 1603 by the learned Roman Prince, Federico Cesi (1585–1630), who was a young botanist and naturalist, and which claimed Galileo Galilei as its president. The Accademia dei Lincei survives as a wholly separate institution.
The Academy of Sciences, one of the Pontifical academies at the Vatican in Rome, is headquartered in the Casina Pio IV in the heart of the Vatican Gardens. The academy holds a membership roster of the most respected names in 20th century science, including such Nobel laureates as Ernest Rutherford, Max Planck, Otto Hahn, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger, and Charles Hard Townes.
Cesi wanted his academicians to adhere to a research methodology based upon observation, experimentation, and the inductive method. He thus called his academy "dei lincei" because its members had "eyes as sharp as lynxes," scrutinizing nature at both microscopic and macroscopic levels. The leader of the first academy was the famous scientist Galileo Galilei.
Academy of Lynxes was dissolved after the death of its founder, but was re-created by Pope Pius IX in 1847 and given the name Accademia Pontificia dei Nuovi Lincei ("Pontifical Academy of the New Lynxes"). It was later re-founded in 1936 by Pope Pius XI and given its current name. Pope Paul VI in 1976 and Pope John Paul II in 1986 subsequently updated its statutes.
Since 1936, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has been concerned both with investigating specific scientific subjects belonging to individual disciplines and with the promotion of interdisciplinary co-operation. It has progressively increased the number of its academicians and the international character of its membership. The Academy is an independent body within the Holy See and enjoys freedom of research. The statutes of 1976 express its goal: "The Pontifical Academy of Sciences has as its goal the promotion of the progress of the mathematical, physical, and natural sciences, and the study of related epistemological questions and issues."
Since the Academy and its membership is not influenced by factors of a national, political, or religious character it represents a valuable source of objective scientific information which is made available to the Holy See and to the international scientific community. Today the work of the Academy covers six main areas:
The disciplines involved are sub-divided into eight fields: the disciplines of physics and related disciplines; astronomy; chemistry; the earth and environmental sciences; the life sciences (botany, agronomy, zoology, genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, the neurosciences, surgery); mathematics; the applied sciences; and the philosophy and history of sciences.
Principal among the many publications produced by the Academy are:
With the goal of promoting scientific research, the Pius XI Medal is awarded by the Academy every two years to a young scientist who is under the age of 45 and shows exceptional promise. A few of the winners have also become members of the Academy.
On 8 November 2012 Pope Benedict XVI told members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:"Dialogue and cooperation between faith and science are urgently needed for building a culture that respects people and the planet.... Without faith and science informing each other, the great questions of humanity leave the domain of reason and truth, and are abandoned to the irrational, to myth, or to indifference, with great damage to humanity itself, to world peace and to our ultimate destiny.... (As people strive to) unlock the mysteries of man and the universe, I am convinced of the urgent need for continued dialogue and cooperation between the worlds of science and of faith in building a culture of respect for man, for human dignity and freedom, for the future of our human family, and for the long-term sustainable development of our planet."
The new members of the Academy are elected by the body of Academicians and chosen from men and women of every race and religion based on the high scientific value of their activities and their high moral profile. They are then officially appointed by the Roman Pontiff. The Academy is governed by a President, appointed from its members by the Pope, who is helped by a scientific Council and by the Chancellor. Initially made up of 80 Academicians, 70 who were appointed for life. In 1986 John Paul II raised the number of members for life to 80, side by side with a limited number of Honorary Academicians chosen because they are highly qualified figures, and others who are Academicians because of the posts they hold, including: the Chancellor of the Academy, the Director of the Vatican Observatory, the Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library, and the Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives.
The president of the Academy is appointed from its members by the Pope. The current president is Joachim Von Braun, as of 21 June 2017. who takes over from Nobel laureate Werner Arber, who is a Nobel Prize Laureate and was the first Protestant to hold the position.
During its various decades of activity, the Academy has had a number of Nobel Prize winners amongst its members, many of whom were appointed Academicians before they received this prestigious international award.
Other eminent Academicians include Padre Agostino Gemelli (1878–1959), founder of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and President of the Academy after its re-foundation until 1959, Mons. Georges Lemaître (1894–1966), one of the fathers of contemporary cosmology who held the office of President from 1960 to 1966, and Brazilian neuroscientist Carlos Chagas Filho.