National Academy of Sciences

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, non-profit society of distinguished scholars. Established by an Act of Congress signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the NAS is charged with providing independent advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. Scientists are elected by their peers to membership in the NAS for outstanding contributions to research. More than 450 members of the NAS have won Nobel Prizes, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), first published in 1915, is today one of the premier international journals publishing the results of original research.

The NAS is committed to furthering science in America, and one of its fundamental roles is maintaining and guiding the vitality of the scientific enterprise. The National Research Council, created under the NAS charter in 1916 by executive order of President Woodrow Wilson, extended the scope of the NAS in its advisory role. The National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine were founded under the NAS charter in 1964 and 1970, respectively. Together, the NAS, NRC, NAE and IOM — without a direct appropriation from the government — enlist the aid of the nation's most knowledgeable scientists, engineers, health professionals, and other experts who volunteer their time to produce reports that have led to some of the most significant and lasting improvements in the health, education and welfare of all the world's citizens.

History of the NAS Building

For sixty years after it's founding in 1863, the National Academy of Sciences had no building of it's own and conducted it's activities in borrowed quaters. A more permanent solution was needed, and it was to be realized through the efforts of NAS and NRC memebers, led by NAS member George Ellery Hale of the California Institute of Technology and by the generosity of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which provided funds for a new building to be located on a purchased site within view of the new Lincoln Memorial along the National Mall.

American architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue was selected to design the building. Choosing a style that blended classical Greek and Egyption Revival elements, he described the building as "Alexandrian," after the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt (founded by Alexander the Great). His neoclassic building was dedicated in 1924 before an assembly of the leaging scientific and political figures of th day. President Calvin Coolidge delivered the principal address, and delcared, "...the magnificent building now being dedicated to science predicts a new day in scientific research." The NAS Building was a significant addition to the architectural landscape of Washington, DC and to American architecture.

The Great Hall

The building's central feature is the Great Hall with a dome rising to a height of 56 feet. The decorations in the dome were created by artist Hildreth Meiére (1892-1961) and contain images that illustrate the history of science.

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 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. Bronze and stonework in the NAS Building was created by sculptor Lee Lawrie (1877-1963).

About the Website

This website presents the Great Hall in an interactive 360° panorama. The dome can be explored by dragging the mouse around. Clicking on unique parts of the dome will reveal a breif description of that hotspot.

It was developed by the Imaging Research Center at University of Maryland Baltimore County. The panorama is presented in 3D using WebGL through a lightweight 3D library called three.js. For web browers that do not support WebGL, this website displays the panorama in a CSS3 or HTML5 canvas fallback mode. For old versions of Internet Explorer that do not support WebGL, CSS3, or HTML5, users are given the option to install Google Chrome Frame which brings WebGL support to old versions of Internet Explorer.

A similar iPad app is available for downloaded for free from the iTunes store. Download it before visiting the dome, and bring your iPad with you to the dome!

NAS Dome Project Credits

This project is a collaborative effort of the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Science, and of the Imaging Research Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.


Joyce Bedi
Thomas Burnett
Melinda Hough
Alana Quinn
Kevin Padian
JD Talasek
Joseph N. Taterewicz
Rick Welch


Wallace Brown
Mark Jarzynski
Neal McDonald


Dan Bailey
Chris Mahaffy
Abbey Salvo


Lee Boot, UMBC
JD Talasek, NAS

Funding for the Digital Dome was provided by the National Academy of Sciences and by the Alfred P. Sloan, Gordon and Betty Moore, Kavli and Spencer Foundations.