Royal 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 nonpartisan basis and provides public benefit throughout Scotland. It was established in 1783. As of 2021, there are around 1,800 Fellows.[1]

The Society covers a broader selection of fields than the Royal Society of London including literature and history.[2][3] 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,[4] 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.[5]

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.

In February 2014, Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell was announced as the society's first female president, taking up her position in October.[6]

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.[7]

The Royal Society building, at the junction of George Street and Hanover Street in the New Town, Edinburgh

Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh is an award in its own right[9] that entitles fellows to use of the initialism or post-nominal letters FRSE in official titles.

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 is required to make a presentation.[10]

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.[16]

The Makdougall Brisbane Prize has been awarded biennially, preferably to people working in Scotland, with no more than fifteen years post-doctoral experience, for particular distinction in the promotion of scientific research and is awarded sequentially to research workers in the Physical Sciences, Engineering Sciences and Biological Sciences. The prize was founded in 1855 by Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane, the long-serving fourth President of the Society.[17]

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.

The Society traditionally has more than one Vice President at any given time. Vice Presidents of the Royal Society of Edinburgh have included: