Email Print Share

Leonard Johnson Retires after 44 Years of Interdisciplinary and International Innovation

Leonard Johnson

Leonard Johnson

May 14, 2018

By Lina Patino
Acting Division Director
Division of Earth Sciences
May 8, 2018

Leonard Johnson recently retired from the National Science Foundation (NSF) with 44 years of public service. My position in leadership afforded me two memorable conversations with him facilitated by NSF Historian Leo Slater. The experiences were humbling and gratifying.

Through these dialogues, I learned about the origin of many programs important to NSF and the Division of Earth Sciences (EAR). During his tenure, Johnson developed many of the agency and division legacy programs, including the establishment of the Science and Technology Centers, International Continental Scientific Drilling Program, and Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology.

Johnson feels strongly that merging different branches of knowledge resulted in more robust discovery. He was at the forefront of managing interdisciplinary programs, and served as the first program director for Continental Dynamics, Geoinformatics and Integrated Earth Systems. 

He believes international collaborations offer this same fertile opportunity, and he participated in developing and the signing of the US-China Protocol on Earthquake Studies.

Leonard is also very aware of the importance of sharing scientific results with the public. He funded professional film makers to accompany field researchers he also supported, merging the arts and science. The film teams shot beautiful footage of research in action and brought it to the public eye. Leonard’s philosophy blended learning and collaboration.

On March 9, Leonard was honored by NSF and the research community for 44 years of service and dedication to the U.S. scientific enterprise.

Upon departing NSF on April 30, he left me the following thoughts, “Overcome challenges with optimism. Have frank discussions. And, do not be afraid to make hard decisions!”

Leonard was a visionary program director, and there is no doubt that he left a deep mark in EAR and the international scientific community. Congratulations, Leonard, on your tremendous career, and your retirement.

If you would like timely news from the Division of Earth Sciences (EAR), subscribe to EAR Express Updates newsletter by sending a blank email to You can unsubscribe at any time by emailing  Send updates and highlights about your NSF-funded research and education projects to EAR Communication!

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

mail icon Get News Updates by Email 

Connect with us online
NSF website:
NSF News:
For News Media:
Awards database:

Follow us on social