National Geographic awards prestigious medal for first time in 30 years

Earlier this week the National Geographic Society honored Dr. Roger Tomlinson and Jack Dangermond with the Alexander Graham Bell Medal, an award that hasn’t been given to anyone in 30 years. The two men are visionary pioneers in the area of geographic information systems (GIS) who have had a massive influence on the way we think about geography and the use of geographical data to analyze problems.

The Alexander Graham Bell Medal has only been given once before and that was way back in 1980 when explorers and mountaineers Bradford and Barbara Washburn were honored for their efforts to fill in the blank spots on maps. The award, which is obviously named for the famous inventor who also happened to serve as the Society’s second president, is awarded for extraordinary achievement in geographic research. Tomlinson and Dangermond certainly epitomize that.

Tomlinson, who is known as the “father of GIS”, first conceived and developed the concept while working with the Canada Land Inventory back in the 1960’s. His work would go on to change geography as a discipline and he now consults with nations and scientists from around the world on the best ways to manage natural resources and project urban development.

Dangermond has had a similar impact on the way we view geography, founding the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) with his wife back in 1969. ESRI now has the largest install base of any GIS software program, with more than 1 million users, spread out over 300,000 organizations, including businesses, NGO’s, governments, and more. Those organizations use the software to analyze and project trends in environmental changes, shifts in urban development, and our impact on the world around us.

The two men are rock stars in the world of geography, and their influence is felt across the discipline without question. The fact that it has been so long since anyone else was awarded the Alexander Graham Bell Medal is a testament to the impact they have had on the science. Congratulations to both men.

[Photo credit: National Geographic Society]