In 1959, the Nevada State Legislature passed NRS396.7951, creating a division of the University of Nevada specifically devoted to conducting research.
From this, a small group of farsighted scientists, academic leaders, and entrepreneurs created the Desert Research Institute, a unique organization that combined the classic academic tradition of high quality basic research with the productive focus of applied interdisciplinary research. DRI became an autonomous division of the University of Nevada System (now called the Nevada System of Higher Education), on equal footing with its two educational campuses, in 1969. Before that, it functioned as a research division of what is now the system's northern university campus.
Through its studies to understand basic environmental processes, DRI also has served its earliest mission—the management and understanding of Nevada's arid land resources. DRI also has proven to be extremely responsive to the world's changing priorities. It has shifted the emphasis of much of its research to address environmental issues on a global scale and conducts studies on every continent in the world.
DRI's research calls on the expertise and methods of scientists from multiple scientific disciplines. DRI's highly skilled researchers are able to collaboratively apply their expertise toward effectively solving multi-faceted scientific questions, and this collective approach to research has helped make DRI successful in producing research of the highest quality and in competing for research funding.