Advising the Nation. Advancing the Discussion. Connecting New Frontiers.

Society is facing an array of complex policy questions. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are distinctively qualified to provide nonpartisan, objective guidance for decision makers on pressing issues. As we have done since our founding in 1863, we marshal the energy and intellect of the nation’s critical thinkers to respond to policy challenges with science, engineering, and medicine at their core.

Through a meticulous process of information collection, evidence analysis, and deliberation, our studies provide blueprints for progress. By shining a spotlight on subjects and facilitating dialogue across disciplines, our work advances understanding of critical issues. The needs of the nation—and therefore the topics we study— change over time, but our commitment to putting sound advice to work for the public good does not.

Advising the Nation

The work of the National Academies spurs progress by connecting understandings of science, engineering, and medicine to advising national policies and practice. Our studies have lasting impacts, from guiding NASA’s agenda for space exploration, to charting the course for improving the quality of health care, to proposing effective strategies to guard against cyberattacks.

When faced with a complex question, we bring together experts from across disciplines to look at the evidence with fresh eyes and openness to insights from other fields. These study committees survey the landscape of relevant research, hold public meetings to gather information, and deliberate to reach consensus, which results in a shared understanding of what the evidence reveals and the best path forward.

We shield committee deliberations and conclusions from influence by sponsors and special interests and make certain each report undergoes rigorous peer review to ensure that our advice is grounded in the best available evidence. This provides policy makers assurance that the results reflect the facts and the combined expertise of the science, engineering, and medical communities.

Advancing the Discussion

The National Academies also convene workshops, symposia, and other events that bring together experts and practitioners to consider issues related to science, engineering, and medicine and their implications for policy and practice. In a space free from partisan pressures and preset agendas, participants share their own research and perspectives and also look beyond them—making connections within and across disciplines, sharpening questions, sparking new ideas, and exploring possible solutions.

Some workshops focus on specialized areas, while others tackle big questions. When necessary, we can swiftly gather the nation’s top minds to address matters of urgent importance, such as how to combat an emerging virus or respond to a natural disaster.

When there is a need for ongoing dialogue, our roundtables and forums—which are organized around a topic—offer stakeholders an opportunity to build relationships and unravel complicated issues over time.

Regardless of the format, these gatherings go beyond bringing people together. They advance conversation, catalyze movement around an issue, and generate bold ideas.

Connecting New Frontiers

In addition to our landmark studies and convening activities, the National Academies pursue a range of initiatives to strengthen the scientific, engineering, and medical fields and their capacity to contribute to human welfare. This includes supporting fellowship programs that foster the career development of young scientists and collaborating with the academies of other nations that advance science globally.

We strive to bring the benefits of science and technology to the economic, cultural, and industrial life of the nation and to the health and well-being of its citizens. In the same way the institution contributed to landmarks of American achievement such as the Apollo space program and the Human Genome Project, we continue to kindle new frontiers in science, engineering, and medicine.

Our activities help marshal new knowledge as it develops, identifying how it can be used to meet the needs of the public and decision makers— helping move us all toward a healthier, safer, and more prosperous future.

Affecting Policy and Practice

Our reports and convening activities have a wide range of impacts on policy and practice, on scales ranging from the global to the individual. They guide the development of federal laws and regulations, improve the effectiveness of government programs, shape the direction of research fields, and inform public knowledge and dialogue about issues of critical importance.

One of our reports influenced the development of federal fuel economy standards for the nation’s cars and trucks. Another provided evidence for the toxicity of secondhand smoke and prompted airlines to ban smoking on planes. When Ebola reached U.S. shores for the first time, we quickly gathered experts to identify what is known about the disease and its transmission.

Free Access for All

Individuals around the world benefit from open access to our thousands of publications at Each year we receive thousands of comments from readers about how they plan to use our work to enhance their lives and communities. For example, a reader recently told us, “I am a trauma surgeon working in Bogotá, Colombia, and this material will be very useful in organizing prehospital and hospital trauma care in order to prevent deaths.” He was referring to our report A National Trauma Care System: Integrating Military and Civilian Trauma Systems to Achieve Zero Preventable Deaths After Injury

By applying our insights to a range of challenges, readers have helped advance change, improve their communities, and share knowledge with others.

In the more than 150 years we have advised the nation, the ways in which we have affected policy and practice are too numerous to list. The following examples illustrate the variety of contributions we have made to the lives and welfare of our global citizens.

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A National Academies report guided NASA on how to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, enabling further discoveries in deep space. >>>

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By identifying weaknesses in many forensic disciplines, a National Academies report spurred the justice system to re-examine cases that used faulty analyses and testimony. >>>

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A National Academies report led to incentives for doctors and patients to discuss preferences for end-of-life care.>>>

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A meeting held annually by the National Academies has generated innovative ideas, resulting in $198 million in savings for one state’s transportation system.>>>

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Working with British and Chinese science academies, the National Academies convened an international summit to explore the implications of a revolutionary new gene-editing technology. >>>

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The National Academies developed a framework that is guiding what K–12 students learn about science and engineering. >>>

Did You Know?
Learn facts about The National Academies.


Repairing a Telescope, Enabling Discovery

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was scheduled to undergo repairs by astronauts until the loss of the space shuttle Columbia made NASA consider a robotic mission. To determine the best path forward, NASA requested advice from the National Academies—which have helped guide its research strategies for more than half a century. The resulting study recommended that an astronaut-piloted shuttle mission would be the best way to restore the telescope’s failing systems. NASA followed that path. The subsequent repair mission to Hubble revolutionized the telescope’s capabilities and enabled new discoveries ranging from snapshots of the early universe to details of distant exoplanets.


Driving Change in Forensic Science

The conviction of a defendant may hinge on the results of a forensic investigation. However, the science underlying some commonly accepted forensic methods is not as solid as many believe. The National Academies identified weaknesses in many forensic disciplines—such as microscopic hair analysis—and provided a roadmap for strengthening forensic science in the United States. In the wake of a National Academies’ report, the FBI is reviewing the testimony of FBI examiners in more than 2,500 cases involving microscopic hair analysis to determine if accepted scientific standards were met. So far, the review has shown that hair examiners made erroneous statements in 96 percent of the 268 cases where their testimony was used to incriminate a defendant at trial. In light of these findings, some courts have agreed to reopen or retry the cases containing faulty analysis.


Helping Patients and Doctors Plan End-of-Life Care

While Americans express strong views about the care they want to receive at the end of life, the majority have not had a discussion about it with a family member or health care provider. A National Academies report recommended that all people engage in “advance care planning”—discussions of values, goals, and preferences related to end-of-life care. It also called for better training and financial incentives to help clinicians discuss end-of-life care with patients. Following the report’s release, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a ruling to pay doctors to participate in advance care planning and counsel patients about end-of-life care.


Sparking Innovative Ideas for Transportation

The transportation industry faces some of the most challenging—and potentially expensive—research and infrastructure questions. Every year, the National Academies bring together practitioners, policy makers, and transportation scientists in the largest annual meeting of the industry to explore tangible developments in transportation. The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) tracks ideas that are implemented as a result of attending our annual meeting. Since 2003, UDOT has implemented 199 innovative ideas relating to contracting methods, safety improvements, bridge construction, and traffic management. As a result it has documented more than $198 million in total savings.


Exploring the Implications of a Revolutionary Technology

When a new, highly accurate gene editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9 simplified the otherwise arduous and imprecise process of editing genes, it was quickly heralded as revolutionary. CRISPR offers tremendous opportunities to reduce health risks, cure disease, improve agriculture, and advance scientific understanding. However, this inexpensive and democratizing technology raises significant ethical, legal, and societal questions. The National Academies, together with The Royal Society and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, convened leading scientists, legal scholars, and biomedical ethicists from around the world to engage them in meaningful discussions about the larger implications of the technology and to craft a statement on the current use of CRISPR technologies in research, in clinical settings, and with germlines. This event sparked a National Academies’ consensus study on this topic.


Strengthening Education in Science and Engineering

Ensuring the best possible education in science and engineering for the next generation is a goal all Americans can agree on, but what does that mean specifically? What can and should we teach our children in a kindergarten-level science class? Or in seventh grade? Or by junior year of high school? And perhaps more importantly, how can we keep students interested in subjects that could define their careers or make them more informed citizens? The National Academies answered all of these questions and more in their framework that served as the guide for developing the science and engineering education standards in grades K–12.


Did you know?

  • The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nongovernment, nonprofit, and nonadvocacy organizations that got their start in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln created the National Academy of Sciences to “. . .investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art. . . .”
  • Lincoln Portrait: Artist Albert Herter, photographed by Mark Finkenstaedt.
  • The honorific members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Medicine include more than 300 Nobel laureates.
  • The National Academies publish about 200 reports and proceedings each year.
  • More than 7,000 experts from a range of sectors and disciplines serve on our committees each year. All volunteer their service without pay.
  • The National Academies receive no congressional appropriations but Congress may call on the National Academies by directing federal agencies to request studies.
  • Approximately 70 percent of the funding for the work of the National Academies comes from government. The balance is provided by foundations, other organizations, and through generous gifts from individuals.
  • Each year, about 1.5 million publications are downloaded from the National Academies Press website at and approximately 135 million pages of reports and proceedings are read online.

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. Members are elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to research. Dr. Marcia McNutt is president.

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. Members are elected by their peers for extraordinary contributions to engineering. John L. Anderson is president.

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. Members are elected by their peers for distinguished contributions to medicine and health. Dr. Victor J. Dzau is president.

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 National Academies also encourage education and research, recognize outstanding contributions to knowledge, and increase public understanding in matters of science, engineering, and medicine.

Photograph of the National Academy of Sciences Building: © 2012 Maxwell MacKenzie