Plenary Speaker—Dr. Nalini Nadkarni

Ubiquitous ecology:  Engaging poets, preachers, and prisons as partners in public engagement of science

Dr. Nalini Nadkarni

Plenary talk Saturday, March 14 9:00 – 10:15 (Miller Learning Center 101)


Dr. Nalini Nadkarni has been called “the Queen of the Forest Canopy”, and has been both a pioneer in forest canopy studies and in communication of science to the public. She is a Professor of Biology at the University of Utah.

Her forest ecology research focuses on the biota of forest canopies in rainforests of Costa Rica and in Washington State, supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society. Nadkarni has published over 100 scientific articles and three scholarly books. Her recent awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2011 AAAS Award for Public Engagement, 2010 NSF Public Service Award, and 2012 Archie Carr Award for Conservation.

Dr. Nadkarni is deeply committed to public engagement with science for all parts of society. In 1994, she founded the International Canopy Network, an NGO to foster communication among researchers, educators, and conservationists. Her work has been featured in magazines such as Natural History, Glamour, and Playboy, and she has appeared in television documentaries, including Bill Nye the Science Guy and National Geographic. She brings science to diverse public audiences, including church congregations, urban youth, older citizens, and artists.

In 2005, she co-founded the Sustainability in Prisons Program, which brings science lectures and hands-on conservation projects to incarcerated adults in Washington State, Utah, and around the country. Her latest project, to bring nature imagery to inmates in solitary confinement to reduce stress and violence, was recognized by TIME Magazine as “one of the “Best Ideas in 2014”. In 2009, she created the Research Ambassador Program, which recruits and trains other scientists to carry out engagement with science and conservation to underserved public audiences around the country.

Below you can watch two of Dr. Nadkarni’s TED talks—one focusing on scientific outreach to Washington state inmates (TED2010) and the other focusing on the importance of canopy-dwelling plants and animals. You can watch these ted talks by Dr. Nadkarni and read  information from her website below.

Nalani Nadkarni explores canopy worlds

Nalani Nadkarni on life science in prisons

Dr. Nalini Nadkarni is a Member of the Faculty at the University of Utah, where she teaches in the Biology Department. She is also the Director of the University of Utah’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education (CSME). She received her undergraduate degree in Biology from Brown University (1976) and her PhD in Forest Ecology from the University of Washington (1983). Her research is focused on the ecology of tropical and temperate forest canopies, particularly the role that canopy-dwelling plants play in forests at the ecosystem level. She carries out field research in Washington State and in Monteverde, Costa Rica with the support of the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society. She has published two books and over 55 scientific articles in scientific journals in the area of forest canopy ecology and forest ecosystem ecology. Nalini has presented a number of endowed lectures at academic institutions around the country.

In 1994, she co-founded and is President of the International Canopy Network, a non-profit organization that fosters communication among researchers, educators, and conservationists concerned with forest canopies. She spends a great deal of energy on public outreach to the general public, children, and policy-makers on matters concerning forest canopies and forest conservation. She has appeared in numerous television documentaries, and was most recently featured as a canopy scientist in the National Geographic television special on tropical forest canopies, titled “Heroes of the High Frontier”, which won the Emmy Award for Best Documentary Film of 2001. A new project she initiated involves the creation of a multi-disciplinary Forest Canopy Walkway project on The Evergreen State College campus. In 2001, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship to pursue her interests in communication of forest canopy research results to non-scientists with collaborations of artists, musicians, physicians, sports figures, and religious leaders.

Further information can be found on her website


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