|Established||1737 – diverged from the Royal Medical Society|
1783 – received royal charter
|Founder||Colin Maclaurin and Alexander Monro, primus (instrumental in founding the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh)|
William Cullen, Alexander Monro, secundus and William Robertson (instrumental in obtaining the royal charter)
|Focus||Science and technology|
|Headquarters||22–26 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2PQ|
|Over 1,800 Fellows|
|Owner||Registered charity No. SC000470|
|Sir John Ball|
|Prof Michael Keating, General Secretary|
|Subsidiaries||RSE Scotland Foundation|
RSE Young Academy of Scotland
|Philosophical Society of Edinburgh|
The Royal Society of Edinburgh is Scotland's national academy of science and letters. It is a registered charity that operates on a wholly independent and non-partisan basis and provides public benefit throughout Scotland. It was established in 1783. As of 2021[update], there are around 1,800 Fellows.
The Society covers a broader selection of fields than the Royal Society of London, including literature and history. Fellowship includes people from a wide range of disciplines – science & technology, arts, humanities, medicine, social science, business, and public service.
At the start of the 18th century, Edinburgh's intellectual climate fostered many clubs and societies (see Scottish Enlightenment). Though there were several that treated the arts, sciences and medicine, the most prestigious was the Society for the Improvement of Medical Knowledge, commonly referred to as the Medical Society of Edinburgh, co-founded by the mathematician Colin Maclaurin in 1731.
Maclaurin was unhappy with the specialist nature of the Medical Society, and in 1737 a new, broader society, the Edinburgh Society for Improving Arts and Sciences and particularly Natural Knowledge was split from the specialist medical organisation, which then went on to become the Royal Medical Society.
The cumbersome name was changed the following year to the Edinburgh Philosophical Society. With the help of University of Edinburgh professors like Joseph Black, William Cullen and John Walker, this society transformed itself into the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783 and in 1788 it issued the first volume of its new journal Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
As the end of the century drew near, the younger members such as Sir James Hall embraced Lavoisier's new nomenclature and the members split over the practical and theoretical objectives of the society. This resulted in the founding of the Wernerian Society (1808–58), a parallel organisation that focused more upon natural history and scientific research that could be used to improve Scotland's weak agricultural and industrial base. Under the leadership of Prof. Robert Jameson, the Wernerians first founded Memoirs of the Wernerian Natural History Society (1808–21) and then the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal (1822, Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal from late 1826), thereby diverting the output of the Royal Society's Transactions. Thus, for the first four decades of the 19th century, the RSE's members published brilliant articles in two different journals. By the 1850s, the society once again unified its membership under one journal.
During the 19th century the society contained many scientists whose ideas laid the foundation of the modern sciences. From the 20th century onward, the society functioned not only as a focal point for Scotland's eminent scientists, but also the arts and humanities. It still exists today and continues to promote original research in Scotland.
The Young Academy of Scotland
The Young Academy of Scotland was founded by the RSE in 2011. It aims to bring together young professionals (aged mid-20s to 40s) from the widest range of disciplines and regions in Scotland to provide ideas and direction for challenges facing Scotland. The members are roughly equal numbers of women and men, serve for five years and are selected from applicants every two years. In 2021 there were 134 members.
The Royal Society has been housed in a succession of locations:
- 1783–1807 – College Library, University of Edinburgh
- 1807–1810 – Physicians' Hall, George Street; the home of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
- 1810–1826 – 40–42 George Street; shared with the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland from 1813
- 1826–1908 – the Royal Institution (now called the Royal Scottish Academy Building) on the Mound; shared, at first, with the Board of Manufactures (the owners), the Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
- 1908–09 – University premises at High School Yards
- 1909–present – 22–24 George Street, purchased from the Edinburgh Life Assurance Company with the assistance of a grant of £25,000 from the Scottish Office
Awards and medals
The Royal Medals are awarded annually, preferably to people with a Scottish connection, who have achieved distinction and international repute in either Life Sciences, Physical and Engineering Sciences, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences or Business and Commerce. The Medals were instituted in 2000 by Queen Elizabeth II, whose permission was required to make a presentation.
Past winners include: Source: RSE
- 2020: Peter Kennedy
- 2019: Nicola Benedetti
- 2018: David Climie, Richard Henderson and Thea Musgrave
- 2017: Tessa Holyoake
- 2016: James Hough and Sir Angus Stewart Deaton
- 2015: No award
- 2014: W. B. Kibble and Richard G. Morris
- 2013: Sir John Cadogan, Michael Ferguson and Sir Ian Wood
- 2012: David Milne and Sir Edwin Southern
- 2011: Baroness Helena Kennedy, Noreen Murray and Desmond Smith
- 2010: Sir Fraser Stoddart and Dr James MacMillan
- 2009: Sir James Mirrlees, Wilson Sibbett, and Karen Vousden
- 2008: Roger Fletcher, Richard Holloway, and Sir David Lane
- 2007: Sir David Carter, John David M H Laver, and Sir Thomas F. W. McKillop
- 2006: Sir John M. Ball and Sir David Jack
- 2005: Sir David Edward and .William G. Hill
- 2004: Sir Philip Cohen, Sir Neil MacCormick, and Robin Milner
- 2003: Sir Paul Nurse, Lord Mackay of Clashfern and Sir Michael Atiyah
- 2002: Sir Alfred Cuschieri, Sir Alan Peacock, and John R Mallard
- 2001: Sir James Black, Tom Devine, and A Ian Scott
- 2000: Sir Kenneth Murray, Peter Higgs, and Walter Perry
Lord Kelvin Medal
The Lord Kelvin Medal is the Senior Prize for Physical, Engineering and Informatics Sciences. It is awarded annually to a person who has achieved distinction nationally and internationally, and who has contributed to wider society by the accessible dissemination of research and scholarship. Winners receive a silver medal and are required to deliver a public lecture in Scotland. The award is named after William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin (1824–1907), who was a famous mathematical physicist and engineer, and professor of natural philosophy at the University of Glasgow. Senior Prize-winners are required to have a Scottish connection but can be based anywhere in the world.
The Keith medal has been historically awarded every four years for a scientific paper published in the society's scientific journals, preference being given to a paper containing a discovery. It is awarded alternately for papers on Mathematics or Earth and Environmental Sciences. The medal was founded in 1827 as a result of a bequest by Alexander Keith of Dunnottar, the first Treasurer of the Society.
Lady Margaret Moir Medal (formerly the Makdougall Brisbane Prize)
The Lady Margaret Moir Medal recognises exceptional achievements in physical, engineering and informatic sciences (including mathematics) by an early career researcher. Awardees are required to have a Scottish connection, but can be based anywhere in the world. The prize was founded in 1855 by Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane, the long-serving fourth President of the Society. The medal was renamed in 2022 to reflect Lady Margaret Moir's contribution to science in Scotland.
Gunning Victoria Jubilee Prize
The 'Gunning Victoria Jubilee Prize Lectureship' is a quadrennial award to recognise original work done by scientists resident in or connected with Scotland. The award was founded in 1887 by Dr Robert Halliday Gunning, a Scottish surgeon, entrepreneur and philanthropist who spent much of his life in Brazil.
See separate article on Dr Charles S. du Riche Preller for the list of lecturers.
This biennial lecture given at the Society was begun in 1931 at the bequest of Dr Charles Preller and named after himself and his late wife, Rachel Steuart Bruce.
It is usually (but not invariably) given by a Fellow either of the Royal Society of Edinburgh or the Royal Society of London.
Presidents of the Royal Society of Edinburgh have included:
- The Duke of Buccleuch (1783–1812)
- Sir James Hall (1812–1820)
- Sir Walter Scott (1820–1832)
- Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane (1832–1860)
- The Duke of Argyll (1860–1864)
- Principal Sir David Brewster (1864–1868)
- Sir Robert Christison (1869–1873)
- Sir William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) (1873–1878)
- Rev Philip Kelland (1878–1879)
- Lord Moncreiff of Tullibole (1879–1884)
- Thomas Stevenson (1884–1885)
- Sir William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) (1886–1890)
- Sir Douglas Maclagan (1890–1895)
- Lord Kelvin (1895–1907)
- Principal Sir William Turner (1908–1913)
- James Geikie (1913–1915)
- Dr John Horne (1915–1919)
- Frederick Orpen Bower (1919–1924)
- Sir Alfred Ewing (1924–1929)
- Sir Edward Sharpey Schafer (1929–1934)
- Sir D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1934–1939)
- Sir Edmund Whittaker (1939–1944)
- Sir William Wright Smith (1944–1949)
- James Kendall (1949–1954)
- James Ritchie (1954–1958)
- J. Norman Davidson (1958–1959)
- Sir Edmund Hirst (1959–1964)
- J. Norman Davidson (1964–1967)
- Norman Feather (1967–1970)
- Sir Maurice Yonge (1970–1973)
- Lord Cameron (1973–1976)
- Robert Allan Smith (1976–1979)
- Sir Kenneth Blaxter (1979–1982)
- Sir John Atwell (1982–1985)
- Sir Alwyn Williams (1985–1988)
- Charles Kemball (1988–1991)
- Sir Alastair Currie (1991–1993)
- Thomas L. Johnston (1993–1996)
- Malcolm Jeeves (1996–1999)
- Sir William Stewart (1999–2002)
- Lord Sutherland of Houndwood (2002–2005)
- Sir Michael Atiyah (2005–2008)
- Lord Wilson of Tillyorn (2008–2011)
- Sir John Peebles Arbuthnott (2011–October 2014)
- Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell (October 2014–April 2018)
- Dame Anne Glover (April 2018–March 2021)
- Sir John Ball (October 2021-present) 
- "Fellows". 21 June 2016.
- List of RSE material held at the National Library of Scotland
- Notes on the Royal Society of Edinburgh from the Scholarly Societies project, University of Waterloo Library (includes information on the journals of the society)
- "The Royal Society of Edinburgh". School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews. Retrieved 22 September 2010.
- "Learned Journals". The Royal Society of Edinburgh. Retrieved 28 August 2015.
- Marshall, Chris (5 February 2014). "First female chief for Royal Society of Edinburgh". The Scotsman. Retrieved 7 December 2016.
- "Welcome to the Young Academy of Scotland". RSE Young Academy of Scotland. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
- Waterston, Charles D (1996). "The Home of the Royal Society of Edinburgh" (PDF). Extracted from the Year Book, R.S.E., 1996. Edinburgh: The Royal Society of Edinburgh. Retrieved 1 July 2012.
- O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F. (2016). "Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh". www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk. MacTutor History of Mathematics archive.
- "Royal Medals". Royal Society of Scotland. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
- Live, Glasgow (7 September 2017). "'A brilliant lady in every sense of the word' tributes paid to cancer professor". glasgowlive. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
- "Academic excellence recognised as RSE announces Royal Medals and Prizes" (PDF). RSE. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
- "New RSE Royal Medal lists and Prize Winners Announced" (PDF). RSE. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
- "Royal Medals 2012" (PDF). RSE. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
- "HRH The Duke of Edinburgh to present RSE Royal Medals to Baroness Helena Kennedy and Professor Desmond Smith" (PDF). RSE. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
- "Keith Medal". Royal Society of Scotland. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
- "Makdougall Brisbane Prize". Royal Society of Scotland. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
- "RSE Lady Margaret Moir Medal". Royal Society of Edinburgh. Retrieved 5 January 2023.
- "RSE Elects Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell to be its Next President". 5 February 2014.
- "Professor Dame Anne Glover elected new President of Royal Society of Edinburgh | News | the University of Aberdeen".
- "Professor Dame Anne Glover is Elected as the New RSE President". 31 August 2017.
- Watson, Jeremy (19 February 2021). "Royal Society of Edinburgh president dethroned after fellows' revolt". The Times. Retrieved 2 October 2021.
- "Professor Sir John Ball elected new President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh". 2 November 2021.