Christopher R. Johnson, co-founder of the University of Utah’s Scientific Computing and Imaging (SCI) Institute and former director of the U’s School of Computing, was named this year’s recipient of the Leonardo Award from The Leonardo museum in Salt Lake City.

The award is given each year to the individual “who crosses the boundaries of known science . . . and blends scientific genres to improve and create new avenues of understanding.” Former University of Utah president and chemical engineering Distinguished Professor, David Pershing, presented the award during a virtual ceremony in September. Opened in 2011, The Leonardo is a non-profit museum that celebrates the intersection of science, technology, art, and creativity.

After receiving doctorate degrees in biophysics and computing in 1989 from the University of Utah, Johnson quickly established a career as one of the world’s preeminent researchers in scientific computing and visualization. In 1998, he became co-director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Visualization Technology Center and later was director of the National Institutes of Health’s Center for Bioelectric Field Modeling, Simulation, and Visualization. In 1992, he co-founded SCI with U biomedical engineering professor Rob MacLeod and became the institute’s first director. SCI has become a world-renowned research center on the development of new scientific computing and visualization techniques, tools, and systems. SCI collaborates with researchers from many departments on campus including biomedical engineering and health sciences. He was director of SCI for more than 20 years before stepping down in 2018.

Johnson joined the U in 1990 as a research assistant professor in internal medicine working in biomedical computing. Shortly after, he joined the computer science department and was later named assistant professor, associate professor and professor. He was director of the School of Computing from 2003 to 2005 and is currently a Distinguished Professor in the school. He also holds faculty appointments in the U’s departments of Physics and Biomedical Engineering.

The Leonardo Award is just the latest in a slew of honors for Johnson’s work. He was given the National Science Foundation Presidential Faculty Fellow award from President Clinton in 1995, the DOE Computational Science Award, the Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology from former Utah governor Michael Leavitt, the IEEE Computer Society Charles Babbage Award, and the IEEE Computer Society Sidney Fernbach Award “for outstanding contributions and pioneering work introducing computing, simulation, and visualization into many areas of biomedicine.” He also is the recipient of the U’s highest award, the Rosenblatt Prize. Johnson was elected an IEEE Fellow and was inducted into the IEEE Visualization Academy.

“Chris has . . . had a very illustrious career,” U President Ruth Watkins said during the virtual ceremony. “He embodies the visionary thinking that the Leonardo showcases. Chris has pioneered innovations in scientific computing and data visualization.”

Click the video below to hear Johnson talk about some of the important research being done at SCI.