In this week’s Wednesday 5, and in honor of Earth Day (April 22), we share with you five groundbreaking women who have dedicated their work to untangling the vast complexities of our universe. These women are championing the environment, exploring outer space, studying climate change, examining a world without the need for oil, and literally saving our world’s trees.



Jane Poynter

Jane Poynter is one of only eight people to live in Biosphere 2 for two years. In 1991, she and seven others were locked in a three-acre, hermetically sealed environment in the Arizona desert. Nothing was allowed in or out, and everything had to be recycled. Poynter, and the rest of the team, endured dangerously low oxygen levels and constant hunger, but they survived—something many scientists said was impossible.  After leaving Biosphere 2, Poynter went on to found Paragon Space Development Corporation, along with her former fellow biospherian and now husband, Taber MacCallum. Paragon develops technologies that might allow humans to live in extreme environments such as outer space and underwater. Below, she tells her story of living two years and 20 minutes in Biosphere 2—an experience that provoked her to explore how we might sustain life in the harshest of environments.




Rachel Pike

Rachel Pike studies climate change at the molecular level— tracking how emissions from biofuel crops react with the air to shape weather trends globally. As a Ph.D. candidate at Cambridge, Pike’s research on isoprene, a major biofuel crop emission, and other molecules has taken her soaring over rainforest canopies in multi-ton labs-on-wings, into the cooled-down sub-levels of supercomputer grids, and into massive experimental atmospheric chambers. Her exhaustive work represents a major step toward a complete picture of how human activity affects the global ecosystem.



Natalie Jeremijenko

Natalie Jeremijenko blends art, engineering, environmentalism, biochemistry, and more to create real-life experiments that enable social change.  Bridging the technical and art worlds, Natalie Jeremijenko creates socially conscious experiences that make change, both directly and indirectly. As director of the xDesign Environmental Health Clinic at NYU, she helps prescribe creative health solutions for the environment that are carried out by enthusiastic volunteers. As a professor in NYU’s Visual Arts Department, she creates and supervises real-life projects for her students like HowStuffIsMade (a website that details how everyday objects are created) and Feral Robots (packs of robot dogs that have been hacked to monitor pollution or even act as breathalyzers).



Lisa Margonelli

 Lisa Margonelli, who has been Director of the New America Foundation Energy Policy Initiative, writes about the global culture and economy of energy. Her work examines the promise and possibility of a post-oil world. She has studied California’s opportunity to benefit from new technologies and policies, and is looking at the unexpected complications of alternative fuels and energy efficiency.




Nalini Nadkarni

Called “the queen of canopy research,” Nalini Nadkarni explores the rich, vital world found in the tops of trees. She communicates what she finds to non-scientists—with the help of poets, preachers, and prisoners. Nadkarni has spent two decades climbing the trees of Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, the Amazon, and the Pacific Northwest, exploring the world of animals and plants that live in the canopy and never come down; and how this upper layer of the forest interacts with the world on the ground. A pioneering researcher in this area, Nadkarni created the Big Canopy Database to help researchers store and understand the rich trove of data she and others are uncovering.


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