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Kerstin A. Lehnert

Kerstin A. Lehnert
Kerstin A. Lehnert

The 2018 Ian McHarg Medal is awarded to Kerstin A. Lehnert for exceptional contributions to the advancement of informatics and, in particular, her pioneering efforts on open, transparent and reproducible science.

Kerstin Lehnert began her career in geochemistry by obtaining her PhD in 1989 from the University of Freiburg in Germany. During her time at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz (Germany) she became involved with the compilation and scientific exploitation of large geochemical datasets using databases.

In 1996, Lehnert joined the Department of Geochemistry at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory where she continued her research and innovation in geochemical data management. In 2000, she started building the revolutionary PetDB database for petrochemical data. This effort coincided with the beginnings of what later became known as research cyberinfrastructure, which Lehnert has also had a pivotal role in developing and implementing.

PetDB became a model infrastructure for geoscience data and emulated in a number of similar implementations in geochemistry and later in other fields of the geosciences. As a result, Lehnert is recognised as having been instrumental in the growth of geochemical databases from a series of badly communicating individual efforts into what has become IEDA – the Interdisciplinary Earth Data Alliance which includes database efforts around the world.

In 2004, based on her previous scientific work and experience in exploiting geochemical data, Lehnert proposed the International Geo Sample Number (IGSN) as a globally unique and persistent identifier for geological samples. Today citation of IGSNs in journal articles and their direct link to the sample description in the internet is becoming common practice. The latest major step for IGSNs being that they can now be directly linked to published datasets allowing greater reproducibility of the associated research.

Lehnert’s pioneering efforts in informatics have directly contributed to the advancement of open, transparent and reproducible science. Her research continues to be at the forefront of innovation in scholarly communications, most notably in the field of geoscience data, but her activities have had a wider effect across the scientific spectrum. Lehnert’s research in the field of data publication, citation and rescue has also come to the attention of the publishing industry leading to a diverse range of high-profile international research activities and initiatives. This includes convening the editors’ roundtable to agree and support the use of standards in published geochemical datasets and setting up the Data Rescue Award that recognises and rewards efforts to improve research quality by rescuing specific, vulnerable datasets. Most recently, she has been instrumental in setting up the Coalition for Publishing Data in the Earth and Space Sciences (COPDESS), an international movement with the stated aim of improving data publishing policies in the Earth sciences. Signatories to the COPDESS statement of commitment include EGU, GFZ (German Research Centre for Geosciences), the International Council for Science, Wiley, Elsevier, Springer and Nature.

During her career, Lehnert has published several papers in high-impact-factor journals consolidating the spread of the advances she has made in geoinformatics across the geosciences. Her ongoing record of creative and impactful scientific innovations in the interdisciplinary field of research cyberinfrastructures continues to be pivotal in advancing key aspects of Earth and space informatics.