National Research Council

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National Research Council

The National Research Council (NRC) was organized by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1916 to connect the broad community of science and technology with the goals of the NAS, i.e., advancing the state of knowledge and advising the federal government. The NRC has become the principal agency of both the NAS and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The NRC is administered by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine.

During the early years of World War I, there was concern about the lack of American preparedness if the United States should enter the war. The NAS had been active during the Civil War and for some years after the end of the war, but had become inactive during the latter part of the nineteenth century and into the first decade of the twentieth century. In 1915, George Ellery Hale, an astrophysicist and member of the NAS since 1902, advocated to the NAS president the offering of the services of the NAS to the U.S. Government in case of entry in the war. In April of 1916, Hale introduced a resolution to the NAS, which passed unanimously, that stated:

"That the President of the Academy be requested to inform the President of the United States that in the event of a break in diplomatic relations with any other country the academy desires to place itself at the disposal of the Government for any service within its scope."

President Woodrow Wilson agreed to the proposal, and a Committee for the Organization of the Scientific Resources of the Country for National Service was appointed. Members of the committee included some of the leading scientists of the time: physicist Robert A. Millikan, biologist Edwin G. Conklin, medical laboratory director Simon Flexner, and physical chemist Arthur A. Noyes. In June of 1916 the committee called for:

"A National Research Council, the purpose of which shall be to bring into cooperation government, educational, industrial, and other research organizations with the object of encouraging the investigation of natural phenomena, and increased use of scientific research in the development of American industries, the employment of scientific methods in strengthening the national defense, and such other applications of science as will promote the national security and welfare."

The plan was approved by the NAS and by President Wilson. The NRC was organized in September, 1916, with Hale as the first chairman. Members represented the government, various branches of the military, universities, and private research laboratories. Members were grouped into Divisions, which were organized according to disciplines or functions. Smaller units within the Divisions worked on specific projects and studies.

Although organized to meet a specific emergency, the NRC, due to its valuable wartime service, was made a permanent organization by an executive order of President Wilson in 1918.

Presently, the activities of the NRC are supervised by Major Program Units. The Major Program Units may conduct projects on the their own, but more frequently supervise projects organized under numerous subsidiary standing boards and committees. These boards and committees, which provide independent advice to the government, are comprising experts who serve without compensation. They provide draft reports on issues of concern and subject the draft reports to rigorous review before release to ensure quality and integrity. The composition and balance of the study committees are carefully monitored to avoid potential conflict of interest and bias. Major Program Units include: Policy Division; Center for Sciences, Mathematics, and Engineering Education, Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems; Commission on Geosciences, Environment , and Resources; Commission on Life Sciences; Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications; Office of International Affairs, Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel; Board on Agriculture; and Transportation Research Board.

The NRC also provides library services to the staffs and committee members of the NAS, NAE, and the Institute of Medicine as well as to the NRC.

[Judith Sims ]



The National Academies, National Research Council, 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. USA 20418 (202) 334-2000, <>

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National Research Council