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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Programs, Organizational Structure, Membership and Financial Support, History and Development

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, pronounced triple-A-S) is the largest general scientific organization in the world. Its objectives are to further the work of scientists and promote cooperation among them, to foster academic freedom and responsibility, to improve and reform science education, and to encourage and facilitate better understanding about the nature of science, scientific research, and technology.


From its early years, the AAAS has promoted quality science education for children and adults, and many AAAS programs promote science literacy in schools and in communities. Project 2061, begun in 1985, is a major long-term initiative aimed at helping all Americans learn more about science, mathematics, and technology. One of Project 2061's main goals is the reformation of the American kindergarten through twelfth grade science, mathematics, and technology curriculum. In 1989 Project 2061 released its influential publication Science for All Americans, which established guidelines for what American students need to know about science, mathematics, and technology by the time they graduate from high school.

The AAAS's Directorate for Education and Human Resources also works for science education reform through fifty programs and a wide variety of publications. Among its many programs, the directorate produces a weekly half-hour radio program called Kinetic City Super Crew. The program features a team of resourceful children chasing adventures and solving problems using science. Other radio programs, including Science Update and Why Is It? draw young people into science with interesting jargon-free science stories.

At the adult level the AAAS produces or sponsors a number of radio and television programs about science. In 1992 the AAAS and the National Institute on Drug Abuse launched the Science Plus Literacy for Health Drug Education Project to create materials for use in adult science literacy programs and community-based adult substance abuse and mental health education programs.

The AAAS's Directorate for International Programs promotes international scientific cooperation and fosters the potential of science and technology to solve many challenges facing the global community, especially those involving health and the environment. The Directorate for International Programs also works to strengthen the role and status of engineers and scientists in developing countries.

Among scientists, AAAS is best known for its large annual scientific meeting, which is devoted to the discussion of research topics and problems in all branches of science. The organization is also known for its weekly magazine, Science, an international journal that offers rapid publication of new research findings, as well as analyses of social, governmental, and educational policies and trends of interest to scientists and science teachers. The journal is popular with members and nonmembers alike.

The AAAS annually makes awards for excellent science writing in newspapers and magazines of general circulation. Other annual AAAS awards include the Philip Hauge Abelson Prize, the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award, the Award for International Scientific Cooperation, the Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology, the Newcomb Cleveland Prize, and the Mentor Prize. All awards are presented at the annual national meeting.

Organizational Structure

The AAAS is divided into twenty-four sections, each organized in an area of special interest, including agriculture, astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, linguistics, mathematics, medicine, psychology, physics, and zoology. The AAAS also includes sections covering the history and philosophy of science and the economic, social, and political sciences. Four regional divisions (Arctic, Caribbean, Pacific and Southwestern, and Rocky Mountain) each hold annual meetings, manage their own affairs independently, elect their own officers, and carry out other regional activities.

Affiliated with AAAS are 273 national and regional organizations in pure and applied science, including 226 scientific societies and forty-seven academies of science. Affiliates include such diverse organizations as the American Ethnological Society, the American Chemical Society, the American Ornithologists Union, the Institute of Food Technologists, the National Marine Educators Association, the Linguistic Society of America, the American Nuclear Society, and the Poultry Science Association. Each affiliate is entirely responsible for managing its own affairs. The AAAS maintains a special relationship with its forty-seven affiliate academies, because they, like the AAAS, cover many fields of science and in this sense take on the role of AAAS local branches.

The AAAS board of directors, elected annually by members for one-year terms, conducts association affairs. The board is headed by a chairperson, a president, and a president-elect. An eighty-three-member council meets annually to discuss and establish the association's general governing policies.

Membership and Financial Support

Membership is open to any interested persons, especially working scientists, engineers, science educators, policymakers, and undergraduate and postdoctoral students in any scientific field. The activities of the association are financed by dues, advertising, nonmember subscriptions to Science, the sale of other association publications, and registration fees at the annual meeting. Additional activities, such as the development of materials for teaching science in the elementary grades, are supported by grants from private foundations or government agencies interested in science and science education.

History and Development

The AAAS was founded at the library of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 20, 1848. The eighty-seven scientists who gathered that day were members of the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists who wished to form a new organization called the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In its wide coverage and membership and in its interest in science education and the public understanding of science, as well as in scientific research, the new AAAS was to a large extent patterned after the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Most early members were scientists or engineers, but some, notably U.S. President Millard Fill-more and author Henry David Thoreau, were laypeople who were interested in science. The first woman to become a member was astronomer Maria Mitchell, who joined in 1850. The AAAS began publishing the journal Science (first published by Thomas Edison beginning in 1880) in 1883, and many leading scientists of the following decades, including Edmund B. Wilson, Thomas Hunt Morgan, Albert Einstein, and Edwin Hubble published articles in the journal.

In the years since 1848, the association has grown to include some 138,000 members worldwide. The AAAS has attracted to membership most of the leading scientists of the day. Among the distinguished men and women who have served as presidents have been zoologist and geologist Louis Agassiz, botanist Asa Gray, astronomer Simon New-comb, geologist John Wesley Powell, mathematician Mina Rees, anthropologist Margaret Mead, physicist Leon Lederman, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, and chemist Mary L. Good. The association has always included scientists of great distinction, but it has also maintained its basic and original character of a general scientific society open to any person interested in science.


KOHLSTEDT, SALLY GREGORY; LEWENSTEIN, BRUCE; and SOKAL, MICHAEL, eds. 1999. Establishment of Science in America: 150 Years of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

WOLFLE, DAEL LEE. 1989. Renewing a Scientific Society: The American Association for the Advancement of Science from World War II to 1970. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science.




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