PARIS—Jules Hoffman, one of last year's Nobel prize winners for physiology or medicine, was selected to become an immortal yesterday. That is the moniker given to the 40 members of the French Academy, a body established in 1635 to define the French language and ensure that its standards are maintained.
In a secret ballot among the 23 members present, Hoffman won 17 votes in the first round to earn the spot held by scholar and author Jacqueline de Romilly until her death in December 2010. The immunologist will join fellow Academy of Sciences member François Jacob, ophthalmologist Yves Pouliquen, philosopher Michel Serres, economist/novelist Erik Orsenna, and former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. But Hoffman will have to wait about a year to be formally admitted.
Chemist Bernard Meunier, head of communications of the Academy of Sciences, noted that the Luxembourg-born Hoffman is "not exuberant in the French sense." He has "a great serenity, thinks before he speaks and when he does, it is always in an impeccable French."
A number of foremost French scientists have obtained coveted seats since the Academy was created. Others from the Academy of Sciences include pioneering paleontologist Georges Cuvier, mathematician Henri Poincaré, and microbiologist Louis Pasteur; the French Academy has welcomed a total of 721 members, ranging from art critics to soldiers and ecclesiastics, since its start. The term immortal is featured on the seal given to the academy by its founder Cardinal de Richelieu.
Hoffman, whose choice for the Nobel Prize generated some controversy, beat out Michel Le Guern, a scholar on philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal who earned a single vote, and six other candidates. Of the five remaining votes, three were marked with a cross, which traditionally signifies dissatisfaction with the choices available.