Nalini Nadkarni: The tree-climbing scientist who brings plants to prison

the next list nadkarni promo 1 _00002915
the next list nadkarni promo 1 _00002915

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By The Next List Staff, CNN

(CNN) --- Nalini Nadkarni is a pioneer in tree canopy research and co-founder of the Sustainability in Prisons Project, which aims to teach inmates about ecology. Watch a 30-minute profile of  on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on CNN’s “The Next List."
Here's a primer on why she is fascinating enough to make The Next List.
Why you've heard of her: You probably haven't. Unless you're a tree climbing scientist or an inmate in Washington state (more on that soon). Oh -- or you may have seen "Heroes of the High Frontiers," an Emmy-winning National Geographic film. She's in that. Or maybe you were one of the lucky few to get your hands on the "Tree Top Barbie Doll" she developed.
    Why she matters: She helps bring science to the masses. Not only is she conducting groundbreaking research from the mysterious and under-researched tops of 200-foot-tall trees, she also has made it her mission to share her wisdom about science and nature with everyday people. One stark example: In 2002, she helped launch Washington's Sustainability in Prisons Project, a collaboration between the state department of corrections and The Evergreen State College. Scientists visit prisons and teach inmates about conservation, sustainability, and enlist them in research projects like raising prairie plants and rearing endangered butterflies. Nadkarni is working to develop a similar prison program with the Utah Department of Corrections.
    Why she thinks prisoners need to know about plants: “I think prisoners, as all of us, need to learn about sustainability because it’s about being mindful of one’s life, about being mindful of limited resources, and of taking action and participating in conserving those," she said. "And I think in the case of many people, and especially many inmates who have acted irresponsibly in one way or another, a lot of that has been about lack of mindfulness, about not knowing what the consequences of one’s actions ... And so, by offering the opportunity to prisoners to say, you know, you need to hoe this garden, you need to water it carefully, you need to watch out for the bugs that are going to be attacking the things that you are growing and tending, well, that gives them a sense of responsibility. It might give some skills when they get back out."