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Nalini Nadkarni, “Tapestry Thinking: Weaving the Threads of Humans and Nature”

The Oregon Humanities Center’s 2018–19 Robert D. Clark Lecture will be delivered by Nalini Nadkarni, professor of Biology from the University of Utah. Nadkarni’s talk will continue to explore this year’s theme of “The Common Good” by discussing how her experiences as a scientist precipitated her explorations into diverse ways of engaging humans with the natural world. Her lecture, titled “Tapestry Thinking: Weaving the Threads of Humans and Nature,” will take place on January 30, 2019.

Nadkarni’s 35 years of ecological research in tropical and temperate rainforest canopies led to discoveries about the importance of treetop-dwelling plants in ecosystem processes, as well as the fragility of the rainforest tapestry. To help raise awareness of the need to protect forests and to narrow the increasing distance between humans and nature, Nadkarni created novel ways to share knowledge with a wide range of public audiences, including urban youth, visual artists, rap singers, policy makers, and faith-based groups. She has also initiated and sustained programs to bring science lectures, conservation projects, and nature imagery to incarcerated men, women, and youth in state prisons, county jails, and juvenile detention centers, including those in Oregon. This interweaving of plants, animals, and people has helped to create a stronger tapestry of conservation and engagement with nature.

In describing her commitment to public engagement with science, Nadkarni writes, “In 2001, I received a Guggenheim Fellowship to explore the obstacles that scientists face in disseminating their research to non-scientific audiences. My approach was to directly link my research and conservation messages about forest canopies with activities and objects valued by non-traditional audiences. I have designed and implemented projects to raise awareness and inspire these audiences to learn and care more about science, trees, and nature in general.”

Nadkarni is the author of Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees and has delivered TED Talks on “Conserving the Canopy” and “Life Science in Prison.” She is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Archie F. Carr Medal for Conservation (2013), American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Public Engagement (2011), and the National Science Foundation Board Public Service Award (2010).