History of the Minnesota Academy of Science

Founding of the Academy

Image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

On January 6, 1873, the Minnesota Academy of Natural Sciences was formally organized. Under the leadership of Professor Newton H. Winchell of the Department of Geology at the University of Minnesota, the Academy flourished and developed relationships with similar organizations across the world. After Professor Winchell’s death in 1914, the Academy’s activities declined. Fifteen years after his death, the Academy was formally dissolved on February 12, 1929. For a detailed account of the early years of the Academy, see The Minnesota Academy of Natural Sciences by Martha C. Bray.

Almost 14 years passed before the Academy was reborn. Unaware of the dissolved Academy, a new group of scientists felt the need to create a similar organization. Several informal planning meetings were held to discuss creating the Academy as the idea spread to outlying colleges and institutions.

In the spring of 1932, Dr. R.B. Harvey delivered an address on “The Organization of Science” to a group of science teachers from Minneapolis high schools. His suggestion of creating a statewide Academy was accepted enthusiastically and Dr. Harvey was asked to present again at the fall meeting of the Minnesota Educational Association. At a special luncheon held on October 28, 1932, Dr. Harvey presented his vision for a statewide Minnesota Academy of Science. Prior to adjourning, a representative committee of 55 members and officers was chosen to draft a constitution and by-laws to launch the new organization.

The general committee met on November 18, 1932 – within a few days of the 60th anniversary of the first organizational meeting called by Professor Winchell. Many enthusiastic scientists attended the meeting, including most of the out-of-town members, which was encouraging for the success of the new organization. After full discussion, the committee adopted the constitution and by-laws and elected the first Council.

The Council arranged a program and called the first Annual Meeting of the Minnesota Academy of Science, which was held on Saturday, April 13, 1933 at the University of Minnesota. Attendance at the meeting demonstrated widespread interest in the newly formed Minnesota Academy of Science. At a summer meeting on July 15, 1933, 45 active members and 5 associate members were inducted into the Academy. On October 16, 1933, the Minnesota Academy of Science officially became an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The Mayo Clinic and the Rochester Chamber of Commerce invited the Academy to hold the second Annual Meeting in Rochester. A total of 127 members attended the Annual Meeting in the spring of 1934. 


Each year since 1968, 12,000 to 15,000 people have participated in one or more of the Academy’s programs or services and many thousands have been reached indirectly.  The programs offered by the Minnesota Academy of Science are dedicated to the advancement of scientific research, education, and understanding.  

Since 1936, the Minnesota Academy of Science sponsored the Junior Academy of Science for high school students. Through this program, the Minnesota Academy of Science took a leadership role in emphasizing science and mathematics in high school curricula prior to national initiatives following Sputnik.

In cooperation with other scientific organizations throughout Minnesota, the Academy began sponsoring eight Regional Science Fairs and the Junior Academy State Science Fair in 1950. Until 1968, the State Science Fair was held jointly with the Annual Meeting of the Minnesota Academy of Science. The Science Fair program has continued to expand; each year, more than 500 students qualifiy for the Minnesota State Science & Engineering Fair out of 3,500 students who compete in Regional Science Fairs throughout the state.

The first Tri-State Junior Science & Humanities Symposium (now the North Central Regional Junior Science & Humanities Symposium) was hosted in 1968 by the Minnesota Academy of Science in conjunction with the US Army. The North Central Regional JSHS has developed into an annual event where students compete to present their science research at the National JSHS.

Beginning in 1967, the Winchell Undergraduate Research Symposium has been held at the Annual Meeting of the Minnesota Academy of Science. The Academy established the Minnesota Science Bowl in 1994 as part of the Department of Energy National Science Bowl. More recently, the Academy created the High School STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Communicator Awards. In 2013, the Academy launched Science Salon, a professional networking event to help scientists throughout Minnesota stay current and stay connected. 

The Academy has in the past disseminated pertinent and timely information through its publications. Archives of the Journal of the Minnesota Academy of Science which published original research, scholarly papers, and abstracts from the Winchell Undergraduate Research Symposium and the Annual Meeting through 2017 can be found on the website or obtained from the Academy office. The Minnesota Academy of Science Journal of Student Research has published student research and winning papers from the High School STEM Communicator Awards. Members of the Academy can keep in touch with current happenings and the latest news through the monthly news and information emails sent to our constituents.

Other Activities

In 1940, the Minnesota Academy of Science was instrumental in establishing The Cedar Creek Natural History Area (CCNHA) through the initial purchase of a tract of 500 acres of land. The Academy transferred the title of the land to the University of Minnesota as a gift. When further funds became available to the Minnesota Academy of Science and the University of Minnesota from the Fleischmann Foundation, further land was acquired and a laboratory was constructed on site. Through agreements with the Minnesota Academy of Science, the University of Minnesota maintains the CCNHA under the administration of the Graduate School Dean, who appoints a Director and an Associate Director. The University agreed to keep and preserve the CCNHA lands in their natural condition and administer the area to encourage its wise use for scientific and educational purposes. Access for such use by qualified and suitable persons is not limited to persons having an official connection with the University of Minnesota.

The November 1996 edition of FRONTIERS, a newsletter of the National Science Foundation, indicated that the CCNHA is serving a broad population of scientists. The article summarized the work of a team of researchers led by David Tilman, Regents Professor of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the University of Minnesota.  The CCNHA in Minnesota is one of the National Science Foundation’s Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites. The Minnesota Academy of Science can take great pride in the establishment of the CCNHA.


To provide continuity within the organization and expand program offerings, the Academy decided to seek a secretary. With a generous grant from Louis W. and Maud Hill Family Foundation, the Academy established the office of Executive Secretary and opened an office in the Science Museum of the St. Paul Institute on August 20, 1956. Since then, the office of the Academy has moved many times before landing in its current location in St. Paul.

Under the leadership of Dr. Gary Goken, the Minnesota Academy of Science Board of Directors shifted to an advisory role and placed more governing power in the hands of the Executive Director. These changes were fine-tuned in 1996 and serve as the current basis for how the Minnesota Academy of Science operates.

Since 1932, the Minnesota Academy of Science has consistently had a President of the Board of Directors serving in a leadership role. The presidents of the Minnesota Academy of Science have shaped its mission, vision, focus, and organizational direction for more than 85 years.

Presidents of the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Academy of Science

1932-33 W. A. Riley University of Minnesota
1933-34 H. E. Stork Carleton College
1934-35 T. B. Magath Mayo Clinic
1935-36 E. M. Freeman University of Minnesota
1936-37 Rev. Wendel Luetmer St. John’s University
1937-38 W. S. Cooper University of Minnesota
1938-39 L. M. Gould Carleton College
1939-40 O. T. Walter Macalester College
1940-41 J. W. Buchta University of Minnesota
1941-42 E. T. Tufte St. Olaf College
1942-43 R. B. Harvey General Mills
1943-44 G. A. Thiel University of Minnesota
1944-45 Charles Sheard Mayo Clinic
1945-46 Lee I. Smith University of Minnesota
1946-47 G. L. Miller State Teacher College, Mankato
1947-48 Walter Breckenridge University of Minnesota
1948-49 W. A. Kenyon Hamline University
1949-50 H. E. Essex Mayo Foundation
1950-51 A. N. Wilcox University of Minnesota
1951-52 W. C. Croxton State Teacher College, St. Cloud
1952-53 Ernst Abbe University of Minnesota
1953-54 R. W. Darland University of Minnesota, Duluth
1954-55 L. A. Ford State Teacher College, Mankato
1955-56 W. H. Marshall University of Minnesota
1956-57 E. J. Baldes Mayo Clinic
1957-58 Harold T. Peters Bemidji State University
1958-59 Frank Verbrugge University of Minnesota
1959-60 Harold Hansen St. Olaf College
1960-61 John L. Rendall 3M Company
1961-62 Walter O. Lundberg Hormel Company
1962-63 Robert L. Evans University of Minnesota
1963-64 Courtland L. Agre Augsburg College
1964-65 V. Elving Anderson University of Minnesota
1965-66 Frank M. Noice Moorhead State University
1966-67 Edmund C. Bray University of Minnesota
1967-68 Paul J. Germann St. Thomas University
1968-69 Richard W. Fulmer Cargill Company
1969-70 Merle P. Meyer University of Minnesota
1970-71 Curtis D. Motchenbacher Honeywell Corporation
1971-72 L. D. Frenzel, Jr. Macalester College
1972-73 Michael H. Baker ChemServ
1973-74 Richard J. Myshak Environmental Center
1974-75 David L. Douglas Gould, Inc.
1975-76 Stirling P. Stackhouse Honeywell Corporation
1976-77 Michael Naylon Environmental Center
1977-78 Kathleen Keenan University of Minnesota
1978-79 John Haaland Pillsbury
1979-80 Jack Mauritz Hennepin Park Reserve District
1980-81 James R. Johnson 3M Company
1981-82 Wayne Wolsey Macalester College
1982-83 William Bessler Mankato State University
1983-84 Connie Clark Veterans Administration Medical Center
1984-86 Wayland Ezell St. Cloud State University
1986-88 Ted Molitor Alexander Ramsey High School
1988-90 Gary Goken 3M Company
1990-92 Wayne Anderson St. Clair High School
1992-94 Len Soroka St. Cloud State University
1994-96 Judith Parker 3M Company
1996-98 Thomas Brunelle LecTec
1998-1999 Raymond Sicard University of Minnesota
1999-2000 Wayne Wolsey Macalester College
2000-2002 James Bracke Lifecore Biomedicial Inc.
2002-2004 Gordon MacFarlane Hill-Rom
2004-2006 William Heidcamp Gustavus Adolphus College
2006-2008 William Bessler Mankato State University
2008-2013 James Fairman Science Museum of Minnesota
2013-2015 Michael Williams 3M Company
2016-2017 Stephanie Yancey  Beckman Coulter
2017-2019 William Heidcamp  Gustavus Adolphus College