When Nalini Nadkarni was a kid, she'd run home from school, climb into one of the eight maple trees in her parents' backyard, and spend an afternoon there with an apple and a book, per the AP. That time in the treetops set the tone for the rest of her life: She's now a forest ecologist at the University of Utah who's dedicated her career to studying rainforest canopies. She's also always looking for new ways to get people interested in science, and her childhood memories made her particularly interested in reaching children. After her own 6-year-old daughter asked for a Barbie, Nadkarni decided to refashion the iconic doll as a scientist-explorer in rubber boots rather than high heels. "Lots of girls, and some little boys, love Barbie," Nadkarni said. "It's almost aspirational, they want to be Barbie."
That was about 15 years ago. Nadkarni said Barbie maker Mattel wasn't interested in the idea then, so she decided to redo dolls herself, using gear she collected. She called the creation "Tree Top Barbie" and began selling them at cost on her website. Last year, Mattel began working with National Geographic to create a new line of scientist Barbies. Nadkarni has a long-standing relationship with National Geographic, so when the nonprofit reached out for help, she quickly agreed. Nadkarni joined a team of female scientists advising Mattel as it made the line of dolls that includes a marine biologist, astrophysicist, photojournalist, conservationist, and entomologist. Sales began in the summer. As a thank you, Mattel sent Nadkarni a one-of-a-kind doll with tree-climbing gear and full dark hair woven with strands of white hair that resembles the scientist.
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