The image above depicts the Great Hall dome of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Building, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington D.C. This website provides you with an opportunity to explore the elaborately painted surface of the dome, designed in 1924 by artist Hildreth Meière (1892-1961) to symbolize the history of science at that time. The Gallery below allows you to see the various icons up close and read about their meanings. On this website you will also find over 80 video clips taken from recent interviews with some of the top US scientists, sharing their thoughts about how their disciplines and science overall have evolved since 1924. There is a link to an iPad application that also allows you to explore the 1924 dome, but also offers a new digital artwork that responds to science now based on the interviews with scientists.
You can learn more about the National Academy of Sciences at their website.
This website and the iPad application were created in collaboration between the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences, and of the Imaging Research Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Cycle through the images here to explore the icons painted on the Great Hall dome and learn what they mean. At the center of the dome is a stylized sun surrounded by symbols of the eight planets known in 1924. Between the sun and the ring of planets is the inscription, "Ages and cycles of nature in ceaseless sequence moving." Radiating outward are eight panels, each representing a scientific discipline. At the base of each trapezoid are two smaller medallions depicting objects, tools, or ideas emblematic of each discipline. A second inscription encircles the dome at its rim: "To science, pilot of industry, conqueror of disease, multiplier of the harvest, explorer of the universe, revealer of nature's laws, eternal guide to truth." The dome is supported by four pendentives, each decorated with figures representing earth, air, fire, and water and three small medallions representing inventions related to each classical element. The four soffit arches display interpretation of the insignia of four of the world's oldest academies of science and two examples of their achievements. Other artists contributed to the splendor of the Great Hall. Muralist Albert Herter (1871-1950) painted the mural on the north wall of the Great Hall portraying Prometheus.
As part of its mission the NAS strives to help the public gain a broader, deeper, and more accurate understanding of what science is and what scientists do. The building in Washington and the world of digital technology offer pathways to help accomplish these goals and keep Americans informed about science as it has evolved. In addition to this website, you can download the NAS Great Hall iPad app at the Apple Store. The app is divided into two sections. One allows those standing in the Geat Hall itself to augment the reality they see around them with closeups information. It also allows those not standing in the Great Hall, to see it and explore as if it were there.
The second part of the app addresses science after 1924. To hear, in the words of scientists themselves, how science has evolved, twelve top minds in the sciences, including Nobel Laureates, agreed to filmed interviews. They spoke about how the disciplines have multiplied, how they come and go, and how categorizing science into disciplines may not even pertain to the research questions of our time. They worried aloud about the relationship between Americans and science, particularly given the major challenges we face and scientific discoveries that could change our lives in profound ways for which we are not prepared for. They worry that too few people really understand what science can and can’t do. However, at the highest levels, scientists remain passionate and courageous, driven by insatiable curiosity. This part of the app is an artistic attempt to capture a sense of science as scientists talk about it now, and provides access to their words.
Joseph N. Taterewicz
Lee Boot, UMBC
JD Talasek, NAS
Funding for the NAS Great Hall iPad app was provided by the National Academy of Sciences and by the Alfred P. Sloan, Gordon and Betty Moore, Kavli and Spencer Foundations.
The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln, as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to bring the practices of engineering to advising the nation. The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) was established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to advise the nation on medical and health issues.
The three Academies work together as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conduct other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. The Academies also encourage education and research, recognize outstanding contributions to knowledge, and increase public understanding in matters of science, engineering, and medicine.
Learn more about the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine at www.national-academies.org.