Dr. Sean A. McKenna appointed to lead Hydrologic Sciences at the Desert Research Institute

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) proudly announced today that Dr. Sean A. McKenna has been selected to lead the Institute’s Division of Hydrologic Sciences.

Dr. McKenna comes to DRI from IBM Research in Dublin, Ireland, where he has spent the past seven years focused on leading developments in internet of things and machine learning technologies for IBM’s Smarter Cities, water management and energy portfolios. Prior to that, he served as a Senior Scientist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he worked on water security, modeling, and monitoring of water resource infrastructure around the world.

Dr. Sean A. McKenna

Dr. Sean McKenna, Exec. Director of Hydrologic Sciences

“I am honored to join DRI and lead the incredible group of diverse scientists and engineers that make up the division of hydrologic sciences,” said Dr. McKenna. “The Institute has a world-renowned reputation in water research and is well-positioned for advances in digitalization of water resource management and predictive modeling to help Nevada, and all of our research partners, make smarter, data-driven decisions.”

Dr. McKenna has worked and published extensively on research and applications of mathematical and statistical techniques to solve problems in ground water modeling, natural resource assessment, and environmental stewardship. His accomplishments also include leading the development of the open-source water quality detection software called CANARY, which won a 2010 R&D 100 Award (one of the most prestigious innovation awards in the U.S.) and a 2011 Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) Award for Technology Transfer in partnership with the US EPA National Homeland Security Research Laboratory. Dr. McKenna most recently served as an internal expert for IBM’s global Energy, Environment and Utilities business area within the IBM Industry Academy.

“We are excited to welcome Dr. McKenna back to Nevada,” said Dr. Kumud Acharya, Interim President of DRI. “As a hydrologist and an engineer, he has extensive experience and success in the application of water research and technology to address some of our toughest challenges. His innovations and industry insights also serve as an excellent foundation to support the growth of our early- and mid-career scientists who are working to help Nevada address a variety of water resource issues.”

Dr. McKenna has held adjunct or visiting professorships at the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Tech, University of Texas, Austin and the National University of Singapore. He has a Ph.D. in Geological Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, an MS in Hydrology/Hydrogeology from the University of Nevada, Reno and a BA in Geology from Carleton College.


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.

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