Full name: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. An honorary society for science students similar to Phi Beta Kappa. Sigma Xi now has about 75,000 members and 500 chapters worldwide. The organization's headquarters are in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
Scientists who have "demonstrated noteworthy achievements in research" may be invited to become Full Members, while undergraduates and other young scientists who have shown "promise" or "potential as researchers" may be admitted as Associate Members. Originally, only men were initiated, but membership is now open to women, too. All active members pay annual dues.
In 1886, Professor Henry S. Williams, a geologist at Cornell University in New York, who recognized the need for an honor society for scientists, formed a society of fourteen geological students which he named the Society of Modern Scientists. He hoped to attract researchers from other fields, but before the organization had progressed beyond the planning stages, Professor Williams learned of a second society at Cornell. Engineering student William A. Day and new faculty member Frank Van Vleck (from Stevens Institute) had organized an honorary scientific society with seven other engineers. The Greek letters Sigma (Σ) and Xi (Ξ) were chosen because they were two of the few letters not already in use by a fraternity. Professor Williams immediately dropped his own plans for a scientific society in order to support Sigma Xi.
The society grew slowly in the first few years, comprising only four chapters when the first general convention was held at Cornell on May 17 and 18, 1893. Besides Alpha Chapter at Cornell, there were chapters at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Union College, and Stevens Institute of Technology. The University of Kansas was granted a chapter in 1889, followed by Yale's chapter in 1890. One or two new chapters joined the organization every year for the next twenty years. At Sigma Xi's twenty-fifth anniversary in 1911, there were 28 chapters. By 1936, there were 36,000 members in 68 chapters including some international chapters (the first at McGill University, Montreal, Canada).
The official motto of Sigma Xi, (Σπουδων Ξυνωνες) "Spoudon Xynones", was written by Professor Williams in 1871 and revised in 1892. It means "Companions in Zealous Research".
In the beginning, each chapter was identified by a Greek letter, but this practice was all but abandoned after 1900. Chapters are now known by the names of their institutions.
Sigma Xi has published a bimonthly magazine, American Scientist, since 1913. The magazine includes research articles on a variety of subjects, regular columns, and an extensive book review section. All members of the society are automatically subscribed.
Since 1922, Sigma Xi has awarded more than 25,000 Grants-in-Aid of Research to science students to "encourage and facilitate research". Any undergraduate or graduate student currently enrolled in a degree program in any area of science or engineering is eligible and membership in Sigma Xi is not required. The grants normally range between 100 and 1000 USD. The funding comes from individual and chapter donations, as well as from the National Academy of Sciences.
Other awards presented by Sigma Xi include:
The William Proctor Prize for Scientific Achievement, first given in 1950, for "outstanding contribution to scientific research" and the "ability to communicate this research to scientists in other disciplines". It includes a grant of 5000 USD to a young colleague of the recipient's choice.
The John P. McGovern Science and Society Award, first given in 1984, for "outstanding contribution to science and society". The prize is a medal and 4000 USD honorarium. The recipient also gives the John P. McGovern Science and Society Lecture at the Sigma Xi annual meeting.
The Young Investigator award was first presented in 1998. It includes a certificate and 5000 USD.
Other prizes and recognition are awarded by the individual chapters.
The History of the Society of the Sigma Xi published in 1936 by Sigma Xi, including "The First Quarter Century" by Henry Baldwin Ward (first published in 1911), "The Second Quarter Century" by Edward Ellery, and "The Inception of the Society of the Sigma Xi" by Frank Van Vleck.
The Sigma Xi website at www.sigmaxi.org