Lucas has long been driven by two things, wonder and worry, both as they relate to the natural world. Wonder around how it works, how it's built, and how it's evolving. Worry around what's becoming of this world and our impact as humans.
Though his penchant for spending hours outdoors would be what you might expect for someone with such a post, his trajectory has been a bit more unexpected. He's leapt often and looked later.
Lucas started his studies taking an entry-level zoology course, which stoked his passion for science and wonder about the world around him. After the first class, he went straight to the admissions office and declared his major in ecology.
Now, he's heading up Microsoft's AI for Earth program and team, and part of their work is to try to make the importance of our everyday actions and their impact on Earth tangible. The program, now a $50 million investment for the company, grew from Lucas' passion for the planet and an idea that captured the attention of Microsoft's leadership-and ultimately resulted in another leap, to the company's headquarters in Redmond.
'Nature fascinates me. Trees. What are these things?' he says, pointing outside the window. 'How are we protecting them? What is our future?'
Once he found his passion as a zoology student, Lucas leapt again, applying for a rigorous PhD program.
But first, he and his wife, Jamie Joppa, newly married at the time, set off for Malawi for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps where Lucas worked at a national park and Jamie was a health-care volunteer. He returned to the United States and to North Carolina to finish his doctorate in less than three years-lightning speed by most standards.
Lucas' doctoral advisor, Dr. Stuart Pimm, says that Lucas' working in the field in Africa complemented his efforts in the classroom and beyond, adding that he was impressed early on by Lucas' flexibility in different environments.
'It's one thing to be good in the field. It's quite another to put on a suit and tie and pound the corridors of power,' he adds.
Lucas took a job at Microsoft in the Cambridge, UK, research lab, where his world first intersected with Josh Henretig, a Microsoft employee based in Redmond, Washington, working on Microsoft's sustainability efforts.
'He is brilliant,' says Josh, who now works as a senior leader on Lucas' team. 'He challenges conventional wisdom and brings insights into new areas.'
Josh, who has worked at Microsoft for 16 years, says he admires Lucas' clear sense of purpose. 'We all look for new perspective to help us refresh. He's helped reinvigorate that in me. His career path and professional ambitions are something that I'm inspired by.'
Josh and Lucas also spend time outside together, hiking, biking, and skiing. 'The thing that surprises me about Lucas? It's a little comical, despite his interest in the outdoors, how prone to accidents he is.'
I mentioned the dislocated shoulder. 'That, and a broken thumb, broken wrist, cracked knee, messed up face. And that's just this year,' Josh chuckles. (Lucas assures me that the year has been atypical. He's not usually that accident prone.)