Accademia nazionale delle scienze

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The Accademia nazionale delle scienze [National Academy of Sciences], also called Accademia Nazionale dei XL [The Academy of the Forty] is the national science academy of Italy. Founded in 1782, the original name of the society was Società Italiana [the Italian Society], which was changed in 1801 to Società Italiana delle Scienze detta dei XL [Italian Society of the Forty], and then in 1949 to Accademia Nazionale dei XL [National Academy of the XL] and lastly in 1979 to the present one, Accademia Nazionale delle Scienze detta dei XL. The only national scientific Academy continuously in function since its establishment, it is presently an autonomous non-profit organization.


The Academy was founded in 1782 as Società Italiana (Italian Society) on the initiative of the mathematician and hydraulic engineer Antonio M. Lorgna. The founding Members were, besides Lorgna, the forty most distinguished scientists of all over Italy, including Lazzaro Spallanzani, Alessandro Volta, Lodovico de Lagrange, Ruggero Giuseppe Boscovich: hence the current name Society of the XL, Società dei Quaranta (nowadays “Academy of the XL”).

The creation of the Italian Society gave practical effect to the patriotic aspiration of Italian scientists before the geographical and political unification of the Country, namely to see a United Italy at least in Science.

In the same year of the foundation, the first number of the Memorie accademiche (Academic memoirs) was published: the preface expresses patriotic concepts by saying that “Italy’s disadvantage is to have its forced divided” and that one had to “associate the knowledge and work of many illustrious separated Italians” to start their unification.

The publication of the Memorie, a real scientific periodical, was answering a practical need of Italian scientists of the time who had difficulties in publishing their work: there was no authoritative and internationally appreciated communication tool that could collect the national scientific production, as was the case for France or England.

The “Society of the XL” establishes itself rapidly and is considered in a few years the sole representative of Italian Science: Frederick the Great King of Prussia, the French and Russian Academies and later the American ones developed close relations with the “Italian Society” which changed its name to “Italian Society of Sciences called of the XL” after Lorgna’s death.

The Society - supported initially by Napoleon Bonaparte and later by Francesco IV d’Este, Duke of Modena, as the scientific reference point of a badly desired united nation - underwent various attempts of transformation during Italy’s unification period. In particular, in 1861, Minister Terenzio Mamiani (President Stefano Marianini) proposed to unite and merge the Italian Society with the Sciences Academy of Turin (Accademia delle Scienze di Torino), the Istituto Lombardo (Lombard Institute), the Crusca Academy (Accademia della Crusca) and the Sciences Academy of Bologna (Accademia delle Scienze di Bologna) along the lines of the Institut de France. In 1874, Minister Bonghi (President Francesco Brioschi) proposed to combine the Italian Society with the Lincei Academy, but this proposal, like the previous one by Mamiani, had a fierce opposition from the Members who wanted to maintain a kind of moral birthright. Other attempts followed in the second half of the last century; the merging with the Lincei Academy was proposed under the presidency of Domenico Marotta in the mid-60s and again ten years later when Beniamino Segre was President.

During Fascism, the Italian Society of Sciences was subjected to the “revision of Statutes and Regulations of the Cultural Institutions” imposed by the regime. In fact, it was brought under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education. This entailed political, administrative, and bureaucratic limitations which abolished the ‘independent’ nature, a characteristic of the Society since its foundation.

In 1936 the Society was established as ‘Moral Institution’, but the war interrupted almost all activities. At the end of the war, the Secretary at the time, Domenico Marotta, resumed the Italian Society which rejected the statute imposed by Fascism and re-adopted a liberal one.

Originally, the Italian Society comprised 40 National Members and 12 Foreign Members. Today, the class of National Members consists of 40 full members and a variable number of supernumerary ones. The number of Foreign Members has been increased to 25 since 1979. The members are elected by co-option and are nominated subsequently by a Decree of the Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities.

The major scholars of Italian Science have been members of the Academy, from Volta to Marconi, from Spallanzani to Golgi, from Pacinotti to Fermi, from Avogadro to Natta, from Ruffini to Severi, from Cotugno to Amaldi, from Cannizzaro to Marini Bettòlo and Scarascia Mugnozza; likewise, the most prestigious scientists from all over the world: from Condorcet to Pasteur, from Franklin to Einstein, from Humboldt to Monod. Seven Academy members have been awarded the Nobel Prize: Marconi, Golgi, Fermi, Natta, Bovet, Rubbia and Levi-Montalcini.

The historical medals of the Academy, the Medal of the XL for Mathematics and that for Physical and Natural Sciences, are the first government awards granted by the Italian Kingdom in 1866, right after the unification of the Country. With a Royal Decree, the government entrusted the Italian Society of Sciences with the annual assignment of the Medal to Italian scholars in mathematical sciences and in physical and natural sciences. The Medals continue to be assigned nowadays.

Historical events of the seats[edit]

The original statute of the Italian Society required that its seat be fixed in the city of the President in office. This explicit rule was seeking to avoid that the Society be associated preferentially with one of the pre-unification states.

After Italy’s Unity, Sen. Francesco Brioschi, the then president of the Italian Society, raised the issue of transferring the Society seat to Rome, the newly established Capital, and in addition wished for a merging with the National Lincei Academy (Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei) which he had presided over for many years.

Only in 1875, Brioschi’s successor, Arcangelo Scacchi, was able to transfer the Italian Society seat definitely from Modena to Rome, in the premises of the Engineering School in San Pietro in Vincoli. The XL remained there until 1934, when the fascist government decreed by law that the Society of the XL be transferred to the “Royal Lincei Academy” (Reale Accademia dei Lincei), which at the time was subjected first to a compulsory administration and thereafter was incorporated in the Royal Academy of Italy. Starting from 1935, even though the formal seat was at Villa Farnesina, the archive and part of the library were moved to the newly established School of Mathematics on the Rome University Campus by Guido Castelnuovo who was in office as Academy manager.

In 1951, the National Academy of the XL is hosted by the National Institute of Health (Istituto Superiore di Sanità) in Via del Castro Laurenziano, by the secretary Domenico Marotta, at the time Director of the Institute.

In 1965, the Academy had to abandon the Institute and transferred the seat within the premises of the Banca Nazionale di Agricoltura in Via del Corso; later, in 1968, it moved to a rented apartment in Via Nazionale.

In 1975, thanks to the president Beniamino Segre, the Academy moved to the Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro at EUR, and remained there for about twenty years.

In 1995, the Academy had to leave the seat at the Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro, and moved provisionally to Villa Lontana on the Via Cassia. The Villa was part of the legacy of Cesare Tumedei, a well-known lawyer, in favor of the Academy. As administrator, the Academy had the obligation to dismiss the heritage and to use the revenues generated for the purchase of cardiology and nephrology equipment to be given to Roman hospitals.

Under the presidency of Gian Tommaso Scarascia Mugnozza, the National Academy of Sciences called of the XL moved to Villa Torlonia: in 2000 the Villino Rosso has become the seat of the Presidency, the Administration office and historical archive, while the Scuderie Vecchie host the old academic library since 2007.

Institutional purposes and activities[edit]

The traditional, principal activity is the promotion of scientific knowledge in mathematical, physical and natural sciences. Since the twenties, the Academy fosters studies of history of Science, with reference to the history of various disciplines and of Research Institutions.

The Academy operates mainly through the skills and the synergic action of its Members who guarantee a permanent connection with the university and research systems, in Italy and abroad. The academic corpus is a highly representative one of the present scientific knowledge and warrants an inter-disciplinary approach that allows proper treatment of the subjects on which the Academy draws attention.

The Academy awards scientific prizes, promotes meetings, seminars and debates on topics of high scientific and technical specialization, publishes series and periodicals, maintains relations and collaborations with other Academies, Scientific Societies, organizations and institutions in Italy and abroad, realizes popular actions for different target groups. Recently, it has broadened its field of action to cover the dissemination of scientific and historical-scientific culture in schools.

Archival heritage[edit]

The Academy has gathered a precious institutional archive in more than two centuries and has acquired numerous private archives of Italian scientists. The archives have been declared of particular historical value by the Archival Superintendence.

The Institutional Archive gathers the documents produced in the course of the historical-scientific, institutional and administrative activity from 1764 to 2002. The personal archives of scientists and members have been bestowed by the scholars themselves or by their families so that the heritage be preserved and valued rather than being at risk of dispersion. In particular, the archives pertain to: Antonio Lombardi (1811-1849), Amedeo Avogadro (1820-1978), Damiano Macaluso (1871-1941), Arturo Miolati (1875-1951), Emanuele Paternò (1847-1935), Stanislao Cannizzaro (1840-1928), Federico Millosevich (1897-1923), Michele La Rosa (1903-1936), Enrico Bompiani (1910-1975), Nicola Parravano (1912-1984), Domenico Marotta (1919-1971), Vincenzo Caglioti (1940-2000), Giovanni Battista Marini Bettòlo (1955-1992), Giovanni Battista Bonino (1934-1984), Giovanni Semerano (1961-1984), Augusto Righi (1886-1920), Gian Tommaso Scarascia Mugnozza (1955-2011). In addition, the archive contains hosts documents related to Guglielmo Marconi (1901-2000).

The Academy possesses the collection of the ‘Sources for the History of Quantum Physics’ in the form of microfilm. The collection has interviews of the scientists who developed Quantum Physics and their collaborators. In addition to the material related to the work and activities of Niels Bohr, the collection comprises the correspondence of Wolfgang E. Pauli with Werner Heisenberg, the correspondence of Johannes Stark, the notes of Louis De Broglie, the correspondence of Albert Einstein with Hendrik Lorentz.


Initially, the library contained the bibliographic and archival collection assembled by the founder of the Society, A. M. Lorgna, during his presidency. With time, the library index has grown thanks to endowments and exchanges of publications with other Italian and foreign Academies (in some cases of the beginning of the Nineteenth Century), and to a purchasing policy, pursued during the last years, of old scientific volumes, works of members, works of history and philosophy of science and of history of science policy; of special interest are the collection of Italian and foreign academic records of the Nineteenth Century and the collection of mathematics booklets. The oldest part of the library collection goes back to the Eighteenth Century. Today, the library list has about twenty thousand volumes, despite several dispersions.


  • Michael Sachs, World Guide to Scientific Associations and Learned Societies, K.G. Saur, 1990. ISBN 3-598-20530-9.
  • Michael Zils, Willi Gorzny, World Guide to Scientific Associations, Gale Research Co., 1982, page 143.
  • World of Learning 1979-1980, Taylor & Francis Group, International Publications Service, Europa Publications, 1979, page 718. ISBN 0-905118-40-5.
  • Giuseppe Penso uno dei XL, Scienziati Italiani e Unità d’Italia. Storia dell’Accademia Nazionale delle Scienze detta dei XL, Roma, 1978, pp. 505
  • Lo Stato e i Quaranta. Documenti. Dal Generale Bonaparte ai tempi odierni, a cura di G. B. Marini Bettòlo. Roma, 1986, pp. 109
  • Gli scienziati italiani e le loro riunioni 1839 —1847, attraverso i documenti degli Archivi dell’ Accademia Nazionale delle Scienze detta dei XL e della Società Italiana per il Progresso delle Scienze, a cura G. B. Marini Bettòlo e Rocco Capasso, Roma, 1991, pp. 116
  • Anton M. Lorgna scienziato e accademico del XVIII secolo: tra conservazione e novità. Atti dei Convegni tenuti a Roma e Verona (marzo e novembre 1996), in collaborazione con l’Accademia di Agricoltura, Scienze e Lettere di Verona e con la Biblioteca Civica di Verona, Roma, 1998, pp. 414
  • Guida all’Archivio Storico dell’Accademia Nazionale delle Scienze detta dei XL, a cura di Giovanni Paoloni e Mauro Tosti Croce, Roma, 1984, pp. 78
  • Guida al patrimonio archivistico della Accademia Nazionale delle Scienze detta dei XL. Archivio istituzionale e fondi degli scienziati, a cura di Giovanni Paoloni e Nicoletta Valente, Roma, 2013, pp. 108.

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