Nalini Nadkarni is known as the "Queen of the Forest Canopy." For three decades, she has used mountain-climbing techniques, construction cranes, and hot air balloons to explore life in the treetops of Costa Rica and the Pacific Northwest, documenting biota that are rarely or never seen on the forest floor.

She also studies the effects of forest fragmentation on biodiversity, and has published over 110 scientific articles and three scholarly books. She is a Professor of Biology at the University of Utah, and her research has been supported by over 40 grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society.

Nadkarni is also a passionate communicator about nature to people in all walks of life, innovating science engagement programs that bring together radically different cultures of academic science and groups such as faith-based organizations, urban youth, modern dancers, and rap singers. She initiated programs to bring science education, ecological restoration projects, and nature imagery to incarcerated men and women around the country. Nadkarni is a three-time speaker at the TED Conference. Her recent awards include the AAAS Award for Public Engagement, the Archie Carr Medal for Conservation, and the William Julius Wilson Award for Achievement in Social Justice.


Year of Birth: 1954

Hometown:  Bethesda, Maryland

Education: B.A. From Brown University (1976) ; PhD from University of Washington (1983); Honorary Phd from Brown University (2014)

Occupation: Professor of Biology, University of Utah

Expeditions:  Fieldwork in Monteverde, Costa Rica and other rainforest locales (2-3 trips/year since 1981 to present). Many trips to other tropical and temperate rainforests since 1981 to present (New Zealand, Jamaica, India, Papua New Guinea, French Guiana, Venezuela)

Favorite Place to Be: In the top of a tall tropical rainforest tree!

Best Discoveries: That organisms in forest canopies play important roles in ecosystem-level processes; that some trees put out roots from their own branches and trunks into canopy soils and plants that they support. 

Favorite Items in the Field: My climbing gear – the “Master-caster” I invented to shoot lines into trees, strong climbing ropes, ascending gear

Personal Heroes:  Rachel Carson, Linda Brubaker (my professor/mentor in graduate school), Joan Baez (who uses her singing voice to raise awareness of social and environmental justice)

Hobbies: Running, hiking, snowboarding, turning wooden bows on a lathe, other woodworking, dumpster diving


Advice: Find authentic connections with other people to spread your wisdom and receive theirs



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