She educated in science, earning a B.A. in chemistry from Carleton College in 1963 and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University in 1968. She was then a research fellow at MIT, a protégé of Jay Forrester, the inventor of system dynamics as well as the principle of magnetic data storage for computers. She taught at Dartmouth College for 29 years, beginning in 1972.
In 1972 she was on the MIT team that produced the global computer model "World3" for the Club of Rome and provided the basis for the book, Limits to Growth. The book reported a study of long-term global trends in population, economics and the environment. The book made headlines around the world, and began a debate about the limits of the Earth's capacity to support human economic expansion, a debate that continues to this day.
In 1981, Donella Meadows founded the International Network of Resource Information Centers (INRIC), a global process of information sharing and collaboration among hundreds of leading academics, researchers, and activists in the broader sustainable development movement (an international effort to reverse damaging trends in the environment, economy, and social systems). Meadows was the founder of the Sustainability Institute, combining research in global systems with practical demonstrations of sustainable living, including the development of an ecovillage and organic farm.
Meadows was honored both as a Pew Scholar in Conservation and Environment and as a MacArthur Fellow. She received the Walter C. Paine Science Education Award in 1990. Meadows wrote a weekly column called "The Global Citizen," nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1991, commenting on world events from a systems point of view. Her work is widely recognized as a formative influence on hundreds of other academic studies, government policy initiatives, and international agreements.
The Dana Meadows are in the High Sierra of Yosemite National Park .