Tennessee Academy of Science

The Tennessee Academy of Science, founded in 1912, provides guidance for Tennesseans on trends and issues in the sciences. Scholars from many fields interact during an annual gathering that offers discipline-specific sessions as well as a general meeting and/or a symposium and field trips. In the early twenty-first century, the academy is affiliated with two national societies and eight Tennessee societies. State-level affiliates and academies from other states occasionally meet jointly with the Tennessee academy. A collegiate division has annual meetings on college campuses in each of the state’s three grand divisions. Scores of college students present original research, some supported by academy grants. Each year a secondary school in Tennessee hosts the academy’s Junior Academy of Science, at which high-school students present original studies.

The first two gatherings of the academy in 1912 drew 29 participants, primarily college professors and government scientists. These members planned twice-yearly meetings and selected an executive committee to oversee the organization. The academy grew slowly, perhaps because it began on the eve of World War I. For a brief period, one member funded the group’s first journal, The Science Record. Three issues appeared before March 1913 when the executive committee assumed the debt of the journal. Then, the academy published Transactions of the Tennessee Academy of Science in 1914 and 1917.

Into the early 1920s, recruitment averaged sixteen new members per year. In 1923, the Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science began. The journal and the academy’s strong involvement in the Scopes Trial produced vigorous growth. Recruitment averaged 125 members from 1925 through 1928. On the eve of the Great Depression, new programs began, several of which survived the economic decline. One successful innovation created the Reelfoot Lake Biological Laboratory, a research facility that functioned from 1935 through 1977. For many years reports from the lab were a separate series of academy publications, also republished in the Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science.

Initially the academy met in the spring and fall with talks on diverse subjects. In 1930, the academy held its first symposium, a program on Tennessee caves. During the 1930s, meetings included programs for botany, geology, and physics sections. The 1930s ended with a healthy academy well documented by detailed records donated to the Tennessee State Archives.

The era of World War II was stressful, but a vigorous junior academy emerged, as well as new sections in chemistry, mathematics, and zoology. Still, the war brought decline as scientists joined the military and civilians faced rationing and travel restrictions. In this era, spring meetings ended. From 1912 to 1944, the academy published proceedings of all meetings and provided materials for the organization’s archives. There are no published or archival records for 1945. Records resume for 1946 although they become less detailed.

In the war years, membership began to grow more diverse. Both men and women were part of the academy since its founding, but the enhanced role of women in the war-related work force brought an expansion in female membership. The academy also began admitting African Americans. Academy programs adjusted as scientific research grew more varied, reflecting the atomic age and the computer age. The postwar academy joined a national trend toward enhancing science education. Soon, the academy supervised federally funded statewide training programs for secondary-school teachers. The junior academy gained further strength while the collegiate division supported research by college students. Secondary teacher certification became a concern. The Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science added short-lived sections to serve high-school and collegiate readers. Eventually, a Visiting Scientist Program sent senior scientists into secondary schools. The academy continues to honor distinguished secondary teachers, to fund secondary-school research, and to award prizes to accomplished high-school and college students. A major concern is the occasional reintroduction of anti-evolution legislation.

In 1952, the psychology section, which formed in 1947, left the academy and became the Tennessee Psychological Association. Members established an engineering section in 1955, followed by sections in medical sciences in 1960 and in science and mathematics in 1962. Gradually membership rose, reaching 971 by 1963. Much of the growth reflected government funding. Federal support soon ended, but the state began subsidizing science education programs. Meetings were well attended, and the journal flourished. The academy had earlier symposia, but in 1975 a symposium on genetic engineering replaced the general program, and from that point similar theme symposia became the norm. In 1981, state funding stopped. Most programs survived, but they were less active. Membership bottomed at 483 in 1983. State funding resumed but proved unstable.

As the academy approached its seventy-fifth anniversary in 1987, it authorized a senior member to prepare a history, but economics precluded its publication and the history was placed in the academy’s archives. The Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science published brief notes on the meetings of 1912-26, 1927-52, and 1953-87. Other notes discussed the academy’s archives, The Science Record, and each of the first nine disciplinary sections. Article-length texts, also adapted from the archives, focused on the psychology section, the geology and geography section, and academy leaders during 1912-36.

The academy continues to grow and change, with sections in the history of science established in the 1980s, followed by one in the ethics of science and technology in the 1990s. Biology programs diversified, adding a section in microbiology as well as a cell and molecular biology section. The executive committee, established in 1912, always had a president and an editor, but the titles and duties of other committee members varied over the years, generally reflecting changes in the organization’s constitution. The disciplinary sections, the affiliated societies, and the constitution should continue to change in the future as the academy moves into the twenty-first century.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Tennessee Academy of Science
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  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date July 14, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018