Indian-American leads jailbirds in promoting sustainable living

October 21st, 2008 - 12:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 21 (IANS) Nalini Nadkarni leads a team of seemingly iconoclastic researchers who sport shaved heads, tattooed biceps and prison-issued outfit rather than lab coats and khakis. Why did Nadkarni of Evergreen State College recruit such inmates? “Because,” she explained, “I need help from people who have long periods of time available to observe and measure the growing mosses; access to extensive space to lay out flats of plants; and fresh minds to put forward innovative solutions.”

Her researchers are inmates of Cedar Creek Corrections Centre, a medium security prison in Littlerock, Washington, says the National Science Foundation (NSF).

A member of Nadkarni’s research team, who was released from Cedar Creek, enrolled in a Ph.D. programme in microbiology at the University of Nevada and presented his Cedar Creek research at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in August 2008.

Nadkarni started the Moss-in-Prisons project with a type of NSF award that is specially designed to help scientists reach out to public audiences. More recently, she has received additional funding from the Washington State Department of Corrections.

With partial funding from the NSF, Nadkarni has guided her unlikely but productive team of researchers since 2004, as they conduct experiments to identify the best ways to cultivate slow-growing mosses.

Nadkarni’s ‘Moss-in-Prisons’ project is designed to help ecologists replace large quantities of ecologically important mosses that are regularly illegally stripped from Pacific Northwest forests by horticulturalists, said the NSF.

In addition to managing the ‘Moss-in-Prisons’ research at Cedar Creek, Nadkarni helps the facility’s inmates run various projects that promote sustainable living - including an organic garden that produces seven tonnes of fresh vegetables every summer, a bee-keeping operation and a composting operation that processes one tonne of food per month.

Besides, Nadkarni has creatively stretched project resources by recruiting other NSF-funded researchers to contribute to a popular lecture series that she started at Cedar Creek. By giving such lectures, these scientists fulfill requirements for conducting public outreach that accompany NSF awards.

Nalini Nadkarni, a Ph.D in from University of Washington, has been called “the queen of forest canopy research”, a field that relates directly to three of the most pressing environmental issues of our time: the maintenance of biodiversity, the stability of world climate, and the sustainability of forests.

Nadkarni, a professor at Evergreen College, has spent over two decades climbing the tall trees of Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, the Amazon, and the Pacific Northwest. Her research is focussed on the ecology of tropical and temperate forest canopies, particularly the role that canopy-dwelling plants play in forests at the ecosystem level.

In 1994, she co-founded and is now president of the International Canopy Network, a NGO that fosters communication among researchers, educators, and conservationists concerned with forest canopies.

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