Nalini Nadkarni is conducting fieldwork for her forest canopy research project, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. She will be presenting a talk on her long-term research at this field site to over 60 natural history guides at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. These guides take over 100,000 visitors a year from Costa Rica and around the world through the forest trails, providing information on natural history, ecology, and conservation in the bioregion. Resident and visiting biologists will also attend the lecture.
Barbies are a universal cultural icon. Their manufacturer, Mattel, expanded the appearance of their dolls beyond their original look in 1959 to the wide array of ethnicities, careers, and stylings available today. One thing Barbie wasn’t, back in the early 2000’s, was a canopy scientist. Nalini Nadkarni recognized the importance of Barbie in the lives of young children and the influence the doll has over shaping children’s perceptions of career possibilities. This inspired her to create TreeTop Barbie, a tiny public engagement of science project. She and her students bought secondhand Barbies and outfitted them with canopy climbing gear and an educational booklet to offer forest ecology as a model for a possible career choice.
In 2019, National Geographic and Mattel sought out Nalini to serve as a consultant on a new partnership. They were developing a line of Barbies that focused on making science interesting and accessible to the children who play with them. With input from National Geographic, Mattel created dolls, outfits, and accessories to highlight women who are astrophysicists, nature photographers, entomologists, and wildlife biologists.
National Public Radio recently highlighted this relationship, as well as Nalini’s broader efforts to get girls into canopy science. Maddie About Science, a series led by NPR Science Desk Host Maddie Sofia, accompanied Nalini into the canopy and filmed from the trees. In the video and subsequent broadcasts on All Things Considered and Short Wave, Nalini highlighted the experience of climbing through the canopy to see the world above the forest floor. She also discussed the long route the Barbie idea took, ultimately marketed with an international reach.
Nalini is grateful for the opportunity to work with National Geographic and Mattel on such an important project. She is equally grateful to Maddie Sofia and NPR for their coverage of the project, and the importance of getting girls into canopy science.
People who are incarcerated are a scientifically-underserved group of people who are not able to gain access the internet, let alone science museums and lectures. They stand to benefit tremendously from education and are often overlooked as an eager learning community. The INSPIRE program (Initiative to Bring Science Programs to the Incarcerated in Utah) seeks to tap into that opportunity and enthusiasm by bringing academic scientists inside correctional institutions to provide science lectures and conservation programs.
Developing the INSPIRE program has required creativity and persistence. The program relies on the willingness of prison and jail staff to try new strategies for programming, the time and enthusiasm of individual scientists to build engaging lectures and materials, and the hard work of a lean program staff.
Recognizing the potential and necessity for similar programs in other universities and other corrections facilities, INSPIRE Director Nalini Nadkarni offers “How to Go to Prison,” a concise digital document that outlines how to set up and maintain operations of the innovative project.
Navigating carceral systems can be daunting to individuals looking to launch programming, and the guide aims to demystify this process. This “How-To” guide explores some of the most challenging aspects of operating a program like INSPIRE- how to establish and maintain contact with institutions, how to evaluate programs, and how to generate project sustainability. By making the document free and publicly accessible, INSPIRE hopes to encourage other science engagement programs to expand their reach to a novel audience. Incarcerated people across the country stand to benefit from deeper science knowledge and a potential identity shift, from being unconnected to science to actively engaged with science learning.
We are interested in input from people outside INSPIRE about this guide. If you have ideas about changes to this guide, or reflections on ways it has informed a new project or activity, we welcome your comments.
This document was written by Joshua Horns, Nalini Nadkarni, Allison Anholt, Megan Young, and Jeremy Morris, School of Biological Sciences, University of Utah