A scholar of science, technology, medicine, and social inequality, Alondra Nelson is the Harold F. Linder Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, an independent research center in Princeton, New Jersey. She currently serves as Deputy Director for Science and Society for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Past president of the Social Science Research Council, Nelson was previously professor of sociology at Columbia University, where she also served as the inaugural Dean of Social Science. Nelson began her academic career on the faculty of Yale University, and there was recognized with the Poorvu Prize for interdisciplinary teaching excellence.
She has published award-winning, widely acclaimed books and articles. Nelson is currently at work on a book about science and technology policy in the Obama administration; "Society after Pandemic," an essay collection; and new research exploring the sociology of bioethics.
Her writing has been translated into Arabic and French. She is the author of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome. Her books also include Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination, as well as Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History (with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee), and Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life (with Thuy Linh Tu). In 2002, Nelson edited “Afrofuturism,” an influential special issue of Social Text, drawing together contributions from scholars and artists who were members of a synonymous online community she established in 1998.
She has held visiting professorships and fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the BIOS Centre at the London School of Economics, the Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies, and the Bavarian American Academy. Her research has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.
Nelson has contributed to national policy discussions on inequality and the social implications of new technologies, including artificial intelligence, big data, and human gene-editing. Her essays, reviews, and commentary have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Nature, Le Nouvel Observateur, and on National Public Radio, BBC Radio, the New Yorker Radio Hour, and PBS Newshour, among other venues.
She is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. She was co-chair of the NAM Committee on Emerging Science, Technology, and Innovation and was a member of the National Academy of Engineering Committee on Responsible Computing Research.
Nelson serves as an advisor to the Obama Presidency Oral History Project. She is a director of the Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a Harlem-based youth development organization. Prior to her White House appointment, she served on the boards of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Teagle Foundation, United States International University: Africa, the Data & Society Research Institute, the Center for Research Libraries, and the Rockefeller Archive Center.
Raised in Southern California, Nelson is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of California at San Diego. She earned her PhD from New York University in 2003. She lives in New York City and Princeton with her husband and stepson.