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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.


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The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2019, its budget is $8.1 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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