National Geographic Society Newsroom Press Releases

Meet the 2020 National Geographic Award Recipients

Today, the National Geographic Society announced its 2020 National Geographic Award recipients. The nine individuals will be honored during the virtual 2020 National Geographic Awards on Thursday, October 8.

For over 130 years, the National Geographic Society has recognized, invested in and elevated the work of scientists, explorers, educators and storytellers from around the world. 

The National Geographic Awards is one of the Society’s hallmark events. Every year we honor some of the world’s most innovative and inspiring trailblazers who have made astounding contributions to science, conservation, education, technology and storytelling.

Typically held during the annual National Geographic Explorers Festival, which was cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s awards presentation will be held online on Thursday, October 8.

This year’s honorees are bold individuals with transformative ideas who have defined some of the critical challenges of our time, driven new knowledge, advanced cutting-edge solutions, and inspired transformative change. Through challenges and adversity, they have led the charge to protect our planet for future generations and embody the Society’s mission to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world.

It is our great honor to announce the nine individuals who will be recognized at the 2020 National Geographic Awards virtual event:

Hubbard Medal: Katherine Johnson

The late mathematician Katherine Johnson is receiving the Hubbard Medal, the National Geographic Society’s highest honor, in recognition of her pioneering work in the field of mathematics and exploration, which were critical to the success and safety of several decades of pioneering United States spaceflights. Her extraordinary contributions include calculations that ensured the success of missions by Alan Shepard, the first American to reach space, John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, and the Apollo program, which put the first humans on the moon.

Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year: Corey Jaskolski

Engineer Corey Jaskolski is receiving the Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year award for his groundbreaking work creating imaging techniques that have helped redefine exploration and conservation. A National Geographic Fellow, engineer, inventor and MIT graduate, Jaskolski designs, builds and deploys technologies for exploration and conservation missions in some of the world’s most unique and unforgiving environments.

This award is part of National Geographic and Rolex’s Perpetual Planet partnership, which aims to support exploration of our natural world and empower scientists, innovators, and changemakers to develop solutions to protect the planet.

Eliza Scidmore Award for Outstanding Science Media: Erika Larsen

Photographer Erika Larsen is receiving the Eliza Scidmore Award for Outstanding Science Media in recognition of her inclusive, visionary, and conservation-focused storytelling. As an award-winning photographer and acclaimed multidisciplinary storyteller, Erika creates intimate essays about cultures that maintain close ties with nature.

Further Award: Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Documentary filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi are receiving the Further Award for their achievements as boundary-pushing filmmakers and storytellers. Through their daring, inspiring, and captivating work, Chin and Vasarhelyi have given us a front-row seat to astonishing physical feats and triumphs and a spellbinding look at hard-to-reach places that few have seen in person. Among their groundbreaking films is the award-winning Free Solo, which follows climber Alex Honnold as he becomes the first person to ascend Yosemite’s El Capitan without a rope.

Gilbert M. Grosvenor Educator of the Year: Jennifer Chavez-Miller

Educator Jennifer Chavez-Miller will receive the Gilbert M. Grosvenor Educator of the Year award for her outstanding commitment to inspiring a new generation of empowered, curious, and engaged lifelong learners and global citizens. As a full-time teacher education faculty at Central New Mexico Community College, Chavez-Miller creates unique opportunities for her students to develop global competence and connect with the world.

National Geographic Society/Buffett Awards for Leadership in Conservation: Jeannie Raharimampionona & Angela Maldonado 

Conservationist Jeannie Raharimampionona is being awarded the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation in Africa for her dedication over the last two decades to protecting and bringing awareness to the massive destruction of the Malagasy flora. Through her work, Jeannie has created 11 — soon to be 12 — protected areas that will help conserve the extraordinary diversity of plants only found in Madagascar.

Conservationist Angela Maldonado is being awarded the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation in Latin America for her dedication to reducing the illegal wildlife trade in the Colombian and Peruvian Amazon. Her efforts have resulted in a hunting ban on night monkeys and an open investigation into this illegal market, dramatically reducing the trafficking of night monkeys captured and sold for use in laboratory experiments.

Planetary Leadership Award: Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, is being presented with the Planetary Leadership Award in recognition of his leadership in the protection of Canada’s land and waters. Under his leadership, Trudeau has increased Canada’s protected marine areas from less than one percent in 2015 to 14 percent today. Though the award is being given to the Prime Minister, it also recognizes Canada’s partnership with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and the Government of Nunavut to invest almost $200 million to establish Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area and Tuvaijuittuq Marine Protected Area. This transformative partnership with Indigenous peoples will help build a true conservation economy and protect over 425,000 square kilometers of ocean.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit www.nationalgeographic.org or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.