New NEON, Inc. CEO to Take Helm in March

NEON, Inc. has selected Dr. Russ Lea to manage the construction and operations of its continental-scale observatory as Chief Executive Officer.

Dr. Lea will be responsible for clarifying and ensuring NEON Inc.’s strategic direction and overseeing the observatory project. Additionally, he will work closely with NEON Inc.’s Board of Directors to maintain the NEON, Inc. vision, work to establish and fortify partnerships and relationships with critical stakeholders, and serve as a liaison to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Congress.

“These are exciting times for NEON, Inc., and everyone is looking forward to working with Russ as he leads the company on its journey of transforming ecological science," said Jim MacMahon, Chair of the NEON, Inc. Board of Directors.

The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), a $434 million dollar observatory project supported by the NSF, recently entered the construction phase and will begin construction on sites in Massachusetts, Florida and Colorado this summer. The sites are expected to be completed and publicly streaming limited data by 2013, and to be in full operations by 2014. NEON expects to begin construction on an additional six to eight sites by the end of the year.

“There’s a time when technology allows you to do some of the science you’ve always dreamed of doing. And now, the time has come when it can be accomplished, rather than dreamed,” said Dr. Lea. “All of the components are in place: cyberinfrastructure, solid science metrics, infrastructure and sensors, and more. It’s impressive, and now it’s possible – just like the human genome. That’s why I’m thrilled to be joining NEON, Inc. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

Dr. Lea has a distinguished history of establishing a clear vision for organizations and using it to implement positive change, in addition to extensive experience in scientific and academic research. He also has extensive experience in managing and procuring funding for large-scale projects. He joins NEON, Inc. from his most recent position as vice president for research at the University of South Alabama (USA), where he managed research growth across the institution, including interdisciplinary research efforts, resource development and orchestration of all phases of research administration. Prior to that, he served as vice president for research at the University of North Carolina and associate vice chancellor for research at North Carolina State University. 


Prior to his recent roles in academic administration, Lea served as professor of forestry, soil science and ecology, and was active in research. Lea has authored and coauthored numerous publications, journal articles and papers on topics ranging from research funding to environmental science issues. He was active in the establishment of the Society of Ecological Restoration, and currently serves on the editorial board of the Environmental Science and Policy Journal. Dr. Lea holds Ph.D.s from Syracuse University and from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Washington.

NEON will build 62 sites across the U.S., utilizing cutting-edge technology that will gather and synthesize continental-scale data over 30 years on the impacts of climate change, land use change and invasive species on natural resources and biodiversity. Such information will enable users to understand and predict environmental change on regional and continental scales. As a continental research instrument, NEON will support a large and diverse group of organizations and individuals. All NEON data and information products will be made freely and openly available in near real-time to scientists, educators, students, decision makers, and the public.