An acclaimed sociologist, Alondra Nelson examines questions in science, technology, and social inequality. Nelson's work offers a critical and innovative approach to the social sciences in fruitful dialogue with other fields. Her major research contributions are situated at the intersection of racial formation and social citizenship, on the one hand, and emerging scientific and technological phenomena, on the other. She connects these dimensions in a range of publications, including Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life (with Thuy Linh Tu), Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History (with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee), Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination, and The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome. She is currently at work on books about science and technology policy in the Obama and Biden administrations. Her essays, reviews, and commentary have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Science, Le Nouvel Observateur, Nature, and on National Public Radio, The New Yorker Radio Hour, and PBS NewsHour, among other venues.
From 2021–23, she was deputy assistant to President Joe Biden and acting director and principal deputy director for science and society of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Nelson was the first person in the latter role, which brought social science expertise explicitly into the work of federal science and technology strategy and policy. Including Nelson in the list of Ten People Who Shaped Science in 2022, Nature said of her OSTP tenure, “this social scientist made strides for equity, integrity and open access.” In 2023, she was included in the inaugural TIME100 list of the most influential people in AI.
In October 2023, she was nominated by the White House, and then appointed by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, to serve on the UN High-level Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence.