RENO, Nev. (Nov. 25, 2019) – The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is pleased to announce the selection of Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, a distinguished scientist, astronaut, explorer and author of “Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut’s Story of Invention” as the recipient of the 2020 DRI Nevada Medal of Science. This distinguished award is the highest scientific honor in the State of Nevada and acknowledges outstanding achievement in the fields of science, technology, and engineering.

The 31st DRI Nevada Medal of Science award will be presented by the DRI Foundation in special award ceremonies in Reno and Las Vegas on May 20 and 21, 2020. Funds raised from the events will support environmental scientific research through the Innovation Research Program at DRI.

“The urge to understand our planet and how it works has been the driving force of my career, so I am deeply honored to receive the DRI Nevada Medal. I became acquainted with DRI and the excellent research it produces during preparations for my first spaceflight and am delighted to now have this more formal link to the institution,” said Dr. Kathryn Sullivan.

Dr. Kathryn Sullivan

Dr. Sullivan began her career in oceanography, then joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1978, where she became the first American woman to walk in space. During her 15 years with NASA, Dr. Sullivan flew on three space shuttle missions, including the mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990. Following her tenure at NASA, Dr. Sullivan held senior executive positions with Ohio’s Center of Science and Industry (COSI), Ohio State University’s Battelle Center for Science and Technology Policy, and Presidential appointments to the National Science Board and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She currently serves on a number of corporate and non-profit boards and is a Senior Fellow with the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, an independent non-profit public policy research institute in Virginia. In 2019, Sullivan published “Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut’s Story of Invention,” in which she describes her work on the team that launched, rescued, repaired and maintained the Hubble Space Telescope.

“We are thrilled to honor Dr. Sullivan for her work with NASA and NOAA. In addition to being an accomplished astronaut, Dr. Sullivan led NOAA with the focus on environmental research in order to better understand the changing environment here on Earth and beyond,” said Kumud Acharya, Ph.D., Interim President of DRI. “While at NOAA, Dr. Sullivan shaped the notion of environmental intelligence, as she calls it, to create timely, accurate, and actionable environmental information to drive decisions about our changing climate.”

Dr. Sullivan’s many honors and awards include selection as one of the World Economic Forum’s 15 Women Changing the World in 2015 and Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2014. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth Sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a Ph.D. in Geology from Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia. She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Previous recipients of the DRI Nevada Medal of Science include geophysicist and president of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Marcia McNutt; Duke University professor and unmanned systems expert, Dr. Missy Cummings; NASA astrobiologist and planetary scientist and Mars Science Laboratory mission member, Dr. Chris McKay; and University of California, San Diego associate Research scientist and National Geographic Explorer, Dr. Albert Yu-Min Lin.

For more information on the 2020 DRI Nevada Medal events, please visit


About the DRI Nevada Medal of Science: The DRI Nevada Medal of Science is a national award given since 1988 by the Desert Research Institute to recognize and stimulate outstanding scientific, engineering, and technical achievements. The DRI Nevada Medal award includes an eight-ounce minted medallion of .999 pure Nevada silver and $20,000 lecture honorarium. The events in both Reno and Las Vegas are attended by Nevada’s business, educational and government leaders and include an award ceremony and a presentation by the medalist.

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, please visit

The DRI Foundation serves to cultivate private philanthropic giving in support of the mission and vision of the Desert Research Institute. For over 25 years DRI Foundation trustees have worked with DRI benefactors to support applied environmental research to maximize the Institute’s impact on improving people’s lives throughout Nevada, the nation, and the world. 

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