Nathalie Nagalingum studies the evolution and diversification of plants, particularly ferns and cycads, and also oversees the Academy’s botany collection. Nagalingum is one of just a handful of researchers worldwide who studies cycads, a palm-like plant that comprises the most endangered group of organisms on Earth. In addition to her research, Nagalingum is passionate about museum science and the opportunity to use her research findings to inform broader conservation projects.
Watch: Cycads: An Ancient Plant
As a world-traveling botanist, Nagalingum brings exciting new research to the Academy’s oldest collection and joins the ranks of veteran botany curators from the department’s nearly 160-year history. Nagalingum also joins a strong tradition of female botanists at the Academy. She carries on the legacy of the famed Alice Eastwood, an early 1900s botany curator who helped pioneer women in science.
Watch: The Price of Plant Poaching
Nagalingum has fostered her passion for plants since childhood despite a rather urban upbringing in Melbourne, Australia. As a teenager, she cultivated her own vegetable garden because she wanted to be more sustainable. While at the University of Melbourne, Nagalingum naturally gravitated toward degrees in science, eventually earning a PhD in paleobotany.
Watch: Saving Cycads with Science
“I found that I love thinking about how impermanent the world is,” says Nagalingum. “What did the landscape look like before flowers or big oaks existed? When you frame history in terms of vast geologic time, you realize that modern landscapes as we know them can still change so dramatically.”