AAAS Award for Public Engagement with Science
formerly “AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology”
2011 Award Recipient
Nalini Nadkarni is noted for her efforts to bridge gaps between society and science, humans and nature. Her work has taken her to prisons and churches, boardrooms and bookstores, legislatures and rap music studios.
A Professor in the Department of Biology and Director of the Center for Science and Math Education at the University of Utah, Dr. Nadkarni helped pioneer the emerging field of forest canopy studies. Her work documented the critical roles that canopy-dwelling organisms play in whole-forest ecology and shows that treetop communities are vulnerable to human disturbances such as global climate change.
While at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, Dr. Nadkarni established the successful Sustainable Prisons Project, which brings science and scientists to men and women in state prisons. Funded by the Washington State Department of Corrections, the program promotes sustainable strategies such as recycling, organic gardening, composting, and beekeeping and provides science lectures and “green-collar” job training. She engages inmates as partners in the scientific and conservation process, and ensures that results are disseminated widely to other prisons around the nation.
Another initiative by Dr. Nadkarni, supported by a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2001, resulted in the creation of Tree-Top Barbie™ as a strategy for teaching girls about the possibilities of careers in science. Her latest project, the Research Ambassadors Program, funded by the National Science Foundation, helps researchers transform their view of public outreach by overcoming barriers to public engagement.
Dr. Nadkarni has raised awareness of forest science and conservation through mainstream media and has collaborated on children’s books, winning the Outstanding Science Trade Book award for students K-12 from the National Science Teachers Association in 2007. In 2008, she published the acclaimed Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees.
Dr. Nadkarni earned her Bachelor’s degree with honors from the University of British Columbia and her Ph.D. from the University of Washington at Seattle. She has published more than 90 scientific articles and two scholarly books and has been the Principal Investigator on more than 30 research grants from the NSF, the National Geographic Society, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Her many honors include the Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellowship, the University of Miami’s Distinguished Visiting Professor Award, the J. Sterling Morton Award from the National Arbor Day Foundation, and the Grace Hopper Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the 2010 Public Service Award from the National Science Board.
The AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology, established in 1987, recognizes working scientists and engineers who make outstanding contributions to the “popularization of science.” Recipients receive $5,000 and a commemorative plaque.