back to news Dec. 11, 2013

Distinguished University Professors Awarded Joseph Sullivant Medal

For their outstanding scholarship and dedication to the university, Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Distinguished University Professor, professor of geography and director of Ohio State’s Byrd Polar Research Center; and Lonnie Thompson, Distinguished University Professor, professor of Earth sciences and senior research scientist, Byrd Polar Research Center; will be honored with the Joseph Sullivant Medal during Ohio State’s autumn 2013 commencement on Sunday, December 15.

The Joseph Sullivant Medal was established in 1920 with a fund endowed by Thomas C. Mendenhall, an Ohio State professor of physics. The Sullivant Medal is awarded every five years and recognizes individuals for notable achievement… in the form of an important invention, discovery, contribution to science, the practical solution of a significant engineering, economic or agricultural problem, or the production of a valuable literary, artistic, historical, philosophical, or other work.

Together and singly, the Thompsons have carved out extraordinary research careers that have blazed trails, set records, stirred controversy, invigorated their students and colleagues, and created an inspirational legacy of discovery.

For those discoveries and their commitment to research and teaching and training the next generation of scientists, both have received the highest honors from their university and their professions. The awards and honors are a well-deserved “Who’s Who” of the world’s top prizes and accolades for exemplary lives dedicated to expanding our knowledge of the planet we inhabit.

Ellen Mosley-Thompson

Ellen Mosley Thompson is considered one of the world’s leading experts on paleoclimatology, the study of ancient climates. Mosley-Thompson has led 16 expeditions to Antarctica, Greenland and Peru to retrieve ice cores. She served as the principal investigator and field team leader for the ice core drilling project on the Bruce Plateau in the Antarctic Peninsula, which was part of LARISSA (LARsen Ice Shelf System, Antarctica), an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation.

Her pioneering research on paleoclimatic reconstruction, using the chemical and physical properties preserved in ice cores to establish past climatic and environmental conditions, has led to some of the most important data providing deeper insight on past and present climate change.

With her research partner and husband Lonnie Thompson, Mosley-Thompson founded the world-class Ice Core Paleoclimate Research Group (ICPRG) and created one of the most impressive “libraries” of the Earth’s climate history. Under their leadership, the Byrd Polar Research Center has amassed the second largest archive of prehistoric ice core samples in the world.

Mosley-Thompson is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. She was elected Fellow of the American Geophysical Union; Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences—the nation’s top professional honor for a scientist. She currently serves on NAS’s Study Group for Emerging Research Questions in the Arctic and on the Polar Research Board.

At Ohio State, she serves on the faculty advisory board for the Energy and Environment Discovery Theme, the Presidential Committee of AAAS Fellows and the President and Provost’s Advisory Committee. She was selected to give a University Distinguished Lecture, and received Distinguished Scholar and Distinguished Service awards. Additionally, Ohio State named her Distinguished University Professor—its only permanent designation and the highest honor Ohio State bestows upon its most exemplary senior faculty. Mosley-Thompson also received an Alumni Medalist Award. In 2003, she was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame.

Lonnie Thompson

As one of the world’s foremost authorities on paleoclimatology and glaciology, Lonnie Thompson has become a national spokesperson on the subject of global climate change and related policy issues.

Thompson has led 58 expeditions during the last 35 years, drilling ice cores from polar ice sheets and high-altitude mountain glaciers in 16 countries, including China, Peru, Russia, Tanzania and Indonesia.

His team was the first to develop lightweight solar-powered drilling equipment to obtain cores from ice fields in the Andes Mountains, the Himalayas and on Mount Kilimanjaro. His expeditions have recovered the world’s longest ice core from a mountain range (Alaska, 2002), the first tropic ice core (Peru, 1983) and cores that are more than 750,000 years old.

The cores retrieved during these expeditions contain climate records layered in time that allow Thompson’s team to reconstruct earth’s complex climate history and provide insight into the changes occurring on our planet today.

In 2001, he shocked the public and scientific community when he announced that analysis of ice cores from mountaintop glaciers in Africa and Peru showed that the glaciers were melting at an alarming rate – one that will likely lead to the disappearance of Mount Kilimanjaro’s ice fields within the next decade or so.

Thompson’s list of honors is staggering. He was named Distinguished University Professor, its only permanent designation and the highest honor Ohio State bestows upon its most exemplary faculty.

He is an elected Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences—the country’s top professional honor for a scientist—and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is the recipient of the National Medal of Science, the highest honor the United States bestows on an American scientist; theTyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Scinces's Heineken Prize for environmental sciences research--both environmental science equivalents of the Nobel Prize—which has no category to recognize such achievement.

He was one of the very few American scientists ever elected a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and has been named one of “America’s Best” by Time and CNN, and featured as one of “25 leaders who are fighting to stave off the planet wide catastrophe” in Rolling Stone.

In January 2013, he was awarded the International Science and Technology Cooperation Award of the People’s Republic of China, recognizing Thompson as an “influential foreign expert in science and technology” who has made “outstanding contributions to promoting the establishment of strategic partnerships between foreign scientific institutions, universities, enterprises, or international academic organizations with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.”

The Thompsons’ Exemplary Research Partnership

In 2008, the Thompsons were jointly awarded the international Dan David Prize for their efforts to advance understanding of complex climate interactions. Characteristically they donated their prize money to support the Ice Core Paleoclimate Research Fund and graduate student research at Byrd Polar Research Center.

Previously, all proceeds of their 2002 Common Wealth Award for Science and Invention, for their distinguished service to the world, were dedicated to establish the above two endowments.

Again, in 2005, Thompson gave proceeds of his Tyler Prize—a world prize for environmental achievement—to support student, staff, and research needs of the ice-core group and their state-of-the-art laboratories.

Mosley Thompson said, “It is another way that Lonnie and I can contribute to the work we are so passionate about. It allows us to help further student and faculty research in our fields and to support the Byrd Polar ice core storage facility.”

The Thompsons were selected 2012 Franklin Institute Laureates by The Franklin Institute for their pioneering work and achievements in their field. Founded in honor of America’s first scientist, Benjamin Franklin, the institute has honored the greatest men and women of science, engineering, and technology since 1824.

Ellen Mosley-Thompson received a PhD in Geography in 1979; Lonnie Thompson a PhD in Geology in 1976. Both received the Ohio State University Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award in 2012.