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Nalini Nadkarni    

Ecologist, Director of STEM Ambassador Program & Leading Expert in Canopy Research

Nalini Nadkarni is an ecologist who pioneered the study of Costa Rican rain forest canopies. Using mountain climbing equipment to make her ascent, Nadkarni first took an inventory of the canopy in 1981, followed by two more inventories in 1984.

Nadkarni has spent two decades climbing the trees of Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, the Amazon and the Pacific Northwest, exploring the world of animals and plants that live in the canopy and never come down; and how this upper layer of the forest interacts with the world on the ground. A pioneering researcher in this area, Nadkarni created the Big Canopy Database to help researchers store and understand the rich trove of data she and others are uncovering.

In academia, aside from her research efforts, Nadkarni is Emeritus Professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and is a professor in the Department of Biology and the director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at the University of Utah.

Outside academia Nadkarni is involved with a variety of initiatives that use nontraditional vectors to teach the general public about trees and the ecosystem.

Dr. Nadkarni is deeply committed to public engagement with science. In 1994, she co-founded the International Canopy Network, a non-profit organization that fosters communication among researchers, educators, and conservationists concerned with forest canopies.

Other community outreach programs include the Initiative to bring Science Programs to the Incarcerated in Utah (INSPIRE), Preaching to the Choir: Trees and Spirituality outreach to faith-based organizations, and Canopy Confluences an interdisciplinary research and outreach project organized by forest ecologists at The Evergreen State College that involves, poets, rappers, graffiti artists, dancers, and fashion designers in educational projects that combine Canopy research with their respective fields.

Nadkarni has given TED Talks about her work in 2009 and 2016.

Speech Topics


Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connection With Trees

Drawing from her 2008 book of the same name, Nadkarni presents a rich tapestry of personal stories celebrating profound connections we have with trees: the dazzling array of goods and services they provide, their role in commerce and medicine, and the powerful lessons they hold for us.

The Power of Diversity: In the Rain Forest and in the Workplace

Explore biodiversity at work in the forest and through cleverly drawn parallels with everyday life. This presentation emphasizes the strength we gain when diverse forces come together and enhance the value of one another.

Rain Forest Research From Roots to TreetopsFind out how and why ecologists study the complex world of tropical rain forests.

Branching Out

This project, funded by the National Geographic Conservation Trust, brings together scientists, artists, Native Americans, and blind people to document, celebrate, and conserve nature in the Pacific Northwest and Costa Rica.

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