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The Leonardo Award

We believe in each person’s infinite potential, and that everyone has the innate ability to tap into the same genius that defines Leonardo da Vinci’s lasting legacy: curiosity and making connections between ideas and pieces of knowledge that lead to new insights and innovation.

In this spirit, we annually present The Leonardo Award to an individual who has demonstrated a lifelong sense of curiosity, someone who has pushed the boundaries of their disciplines, and who embodies Leonardo da Vinci’s ability to see new, untapped possibilities.

2022 Leonardo Award Winner: Dr. Nalini Nadkarni

Dr. Nalini Nadkarni (born 1954) is an ecologist who pioneered the study of Costa Rican rainforest canopies. She spent over two decades climbing the trees of Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, the Amazon, and the Pacific Northwest, exploring the world of animals and plants that live in the canopy; and how this upper layer of the forest interacts with the world on the ground. An internationally acclaimed, pioneering researcher in this area, Nadkarni created The Big Canopy database to help researchers store and understand the rich trove of data she and others are uncovering.

Why We’re Inspired: Having double-majored in biology and modern dance at Brown University, Dr. Nadkarni started with an appreciation for both the arts and sciences. But perhaps more than that, her deep commitment to engaging non-academic audiences to inspire them to care about science, trees, and nature, in general, sets her apart as someone who can inspire entire communities with her work. In particular, she has been a leading force in bringing science education classes to incarcerated youth. In addition, she collaborates with writers, poets, dancers, and musicians to help communicate the importance and significance of her work.

Previous Award Recipients

2016 Leonardo Award Winner: Fred P. Lampropoulos

Fred Lampropoulos is an innovator who built his company, Merit Medical Systems, from the ground up. After 30 years in the medical device industry, he continues to advance life-saving technologies while building a global business. Merit Medical devices are used in the diagnostic and therapeutic treatment of cardiac, peripheral, gastrointestinal, and pulmonary conditions.

Why We’re Inspired: Like Leonardo’s, Lampropoulos’ success was not pre-ordained based on family fortune, but he followed his curiosity which took him to the medical device industry, and without any background in medicine or med-tech, he went on to invent his own devices, eventually owning over 200 patents. His life story and success prove that a lot of passion, some resilience, and asking great questions can lead to the pinnacle of success.

2018 Leonardo Award Winner: Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan, born to impoverished parents in 1954, is a world-renowned movie and action star, equally beloved in the East and West for his stunts and acrobatic fighting style. He has appeared in more than 150 films and is one of the most recognizable actors and influential personalities globally, including being a leading philanthropist. Chan is also an operatically trained vocalist who has released several music albums.

Why We’re Inspired: Chan, recognizing the tremendous platform that his stardom affords him, has branched out to inspire individuals and communities to understand the urgent need for environmental protection better. He collects and recycles props from his movie sets and works with artists to give them new life as sculptures that stand as a warning against our consumerist society. He inspires children to see themselves as ‘Green Heroes’ who can make a difference in the world. Chan’s dedication to this cause inspires anyone who seeks to create a better world with whatever skills and platforms we have.

2019 Leonardo Award Winner: Dr. Stephen C. Jacobsen

Stephen Jacobsen (1940-2016) was an engineer, roboticist, and biomedical pioneer who worked on major breakthrough innovations, including the first artificial heart implanted in a human, the first artificial wearable kidney, and the Utah Arm – a prosthetic device for amputees. Jacobsen was the founder of several companies, including Sarcos, and he was a Distinguished Professor of Engineering at the University of Utah.

Why We’re Inspired: Jacobsen had a Tony Stark-like mindset, and he used his formidable skills not just to build companies or work with military leaders to develop exoskeleton suits for soldiers but also for whimsical, fun projects: he built mechanized dinosaurs for Universal’s Jurassic Park Ride, as well as the robotic controllers for the Bellagio Fountain in Las Vegas – which weighs 700,000 pounds and includes 125 individual robotic fountains. Like Leonardo’s, Jacobsen’s creativity and ceaseless innovative spirit knew no bounds, and also, like Leonardo, he found parallels that crossed disciplines.

2020 Leonardo Award Winner: Dr. Christopher R. Johnson

Chris Johnson (born 1960) is a computer scientist and distinguished Professor of Computer Science at the University of Utah. He is a world-renowned researcher and the founder of the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute (SCI), which tackles some of the most complex problems in engineering and medicine through scientific and biomedical computing, visualization, and image analysis.

Why We’re Inspired: Dr. Johnson uses computing to help us see patterns in data or simulate real-world phenomena that can be applied to various engineering questions. Leonardo da Vinci spoke of “knowing how to see,” and Dr. Johnson’s work allows us to see the world entirely new ways. His success is born out of a deep commitment to interdisciplinary work, and the result is not just visually stunning but also scientifically important.