Called "the queen of canopy research," Nalini Nadkarni explores the rich, vital world found in the tops of trees. She communicates what she finds to non-scientists — with the help of poets, preachers and prisoners.

Why you should listen

Nalini 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.

Nadkarni teaches at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, but her work outside the academy is equally fascinating -- using nontraditional vectors to teach the general public about trees and the ecosystem. For instance, she recently collaborated with the dance troupe Capacitor to explore the process of growth through the medium of the human body. In another project, she worked with prison inmates to grow moss for the horticulture trade, to relieve the collecting pressure on wild mosses. The project inspired in her students a new reverence for nature -- and some larger ecochanges at the prison.

She's the author of Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees.

What others say

“Nalini Nadkarni explores the many subtle and extraordinary ways that people rely on trees for the products they yield, the imagery they invoke, and the ecosystems they support.” — Jade Leone Blackwater, Brainripples

Nalini Nadkarni’s TED talks

Nalini Nadkarni on the TED Blog
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Science

What happens when prisoners breed endangered butterflies

August 9, 2012

An endangered species of butterfly has found an unusual set of champions — the inmates of the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Washington. While the number of Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies has dwindled in Washington in recent years,  the Mission Creek inmates are working hard to help the species rebound, reports the Nature magazine […]

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Life science in prison: Nalini Nadkarni on TED.com

July 8, 2010

Nalini Nadkarni challenges our perspective on trees and prisons — she says both can be more dynamic than we think. Through a partrnership with the state of Washington, she brings science classes and conservation programs to inmates, with unexpected results.(Recorded at TED2010, February 2010 in Long Beach, CA. Duration: 5:07) Watch Nalini Nadkarni’s talk on […]

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4 great talks for International Women's Day

March 8, 2009

To celebrate March 8, International Women’s Day, we suggest these four TEDTalks gems from some amazing speakers — artists, scientists and economists who think deeply about the role of women. Author and activist Isabel Allende discusses women, creativity, feminism — and the power of passionate thinkers and doers: The former Finance Minister of Nigeria, Ngozi […]

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Quotes from Nalini Nadkarni

People tend to compartmentalize themselves into IT people, and movie star people, and scientists, but when we share our perspectives about nature, we find a common denominator.
Nalini Nadkarni
TED2009 • 267K views Mar 2009
Inspiring, Informative
If trees can create art, if they can encircle the globe seven times in one year, if prisoners can grow plants and raise frogs, then perhaps there are other static entities that we hold inside ourselves, like grief, like addictions, like racism, that can also change.
Nalini Nadkarni
TED2010 • 320K views Jul 2010
Inspiring, Informative