Dr. Nalini Nadkarni has been both a pioneer in forest canopy studies and in fostering the communication of canopy research among scientists and to the general public. For three decades, she has climbed trees on four continents, using mountain-climbing techniques, construction cranes, and hot air balloons to explore treetop worlds.
Nadkarni’s work has revealed that canopy organisms are critical players in such important environmental issues such as saving biodiversity, stabilizing global climate, and enhancing sustainability of forest resources. She pursues research in the cloud forests of Costa Rica and the temperate rainforests of Washington State on how canopy-dwelling plants affect nutrient cycling and provide resources for arboreal animals. Her experimental work in the treetops that shows canopy communities are vulnerable to changes wrought by global climate change.
Nadkarni is a Professor of Biology at the University of Utah. Her research is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society. Dr. Nadkarni has published over 90 scientific articles and three scholarly books. Her awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the J. Stirling Morton Award of The National Arbor Day Foundation, an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellowship, the Presidency of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, the 2010 National Science Foundation Public Service Award, and the AAAS Award for Public Engagement.
Communicating the discoveries she has made is as important and diverse as the canopy communities she studies. She is the Director of the Center of Science and Math Education at the University of Utah. Her work has been featured in magazines such as Natural History, Glamour, Ranger Rick, and Playboy Magazine. She has also appeared in television documentaries, including Bill Nye the Science Guy, Good Morning America, and National Geographic’s Heroes of the High Frontier.
In the last decade, she has been using non-traditional ways to teach the general public about forests, collaborating with partners to bring her scientific results to such venues as prisons, faith-based communities, and rap music clubs. She has integrated artistic expression with scientific documentation of nature, and has brought artists, musicians, and Inuits to the canopy. With the San Francisco-based dance troupe, Capacitor, she portrayed forests through the medium of the human body.
Her most recent project, funded by the Washington State Department of Corrections, is to bring science and sustainability to incarcerated men and women in prisons. Inmates have raised endangered frogs, prairie plants, and butterflies, which are then released from captivity to the wild (www.sustainableprisons.org). She has successfully drawn researchers out of their field sites and labs to more broadly disseminate their own research. In 2008, she established the National Science Foundation-funded “Research Ambassador Program” to guide scientists to do outreach to non-traditional public audiences.
You can read posts on this site about Dr. Nadkarni’s work here.
In the video below, Nalini Nadkarni talks about her work speaking to faith communities about ecological issues:
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Dr. Nadkarni has also produced a similar booklet for the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Salt Lake City:
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You can contact Dr. Nadkarni by filling out the form below: