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John Nelson

Grad Research Associate
Graduate Assistant/Associate, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 5603
Student Information:
Graduate Student
Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology
Future of Innovation in Sciety


John Nelson is a doctoral student and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in Arizona State University's School for the Future of Innovation in Society.  His research interests include the practice of anticipatory governance, the design of public-facing research institutions, and the functioning of expertise and knowledge in pluralistic democracy.  He has designed or implemented deliberative public forums for assessment of solar geoengineering research and of autonomous vehicles; and is presently involved with a three-year project to develop policy prescriptions regarding human genome editing based on robust practices of expert foresight and public engagement.  In parallel, he is pursuing a public value study of the design and outcomes of the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency--Energy.

Nelson's academic background includes training in moral philosophy, risk and complexity, the sociology and philosophy of science and technology, and the history of U.S. science policy.  As an undergraduate, Nelson worked as a research assistant on projects studying the construction of scientific authority in medical grey markets; social infrastructure for grassroots solar microgrid development; policymaking around big data and use of big data to inform public policy; and creative pedagogy and public engagement.  He has worked on educational or provocative games, interactive installations, and in one case, a game show designed to foster public or policymaker dialogue about the future of the American Dream, the role of technology in culture, and transformational sustainability scenario visioning and back-casting skills.

Nelson is broadly interested in the democratic governance of socio-technical change; modes of knowledge-making and knowledge use under high uncertainty and value dissonance; and the construction and propagation of modal narratives around wicked problems.  He hopes his work can help influence the development of scientific knowledge and technological innovation to more broadly, inclusively, and equitably support plural public constituencies and values, and help to foster empathetic communication and cooperation around complex and controversial political issues.


BS Innovation in Society, Highest Honors
Summa Cum Laude
Certificate:  Ethics
Honors Thesis:  Liminal Space:  Reflexive Roleplaying under Sociotechnical Uncertainty
Arizona State University, Tempe (AZ)

Research Interests

Public values in science; structure of research institutions; responsible research and innovation; anticipatory governance of emerging technologies; democracy in knowledge infrastructures


Kaplan, L., Nelson, J., Tomblin, D., Farooque, M., Sarewitz, D., Bedsted, B., Neff, M., and Lloyd, J. (2019). Exploring Democratic Governance of Geoengineering Research Through Public and Stakeholder Engagement. Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, Washington, DC.

Nelson, J.P. (2020 [published online 2019]).  Mythic forecasts:  Researcher portrayals of extraterrestrial life discovery.  International Journal of Astrobiology 19(1), pp. 16-24.

Muldoon, A., Krum, L., Williams, P., Becker, B., Nelson, J.P., Pritchett, A., Brafman, D., & Frow, E. (2019).  Characterizing direct-to-consumer stem cell businesses in the Southwest US.  Stem Cell Reports 13(2), pp. 247-253.

Nelson, J.P. (July 5, 2018).  There won't be a single moment when we "discover" alien life.  Slate [online].  Retrieved from

Honors / Awards

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (Spring 2019)

Outstanding Graduate Award, School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Arizona State University (Spring 2018)

Moeur Award, Arizona State University (Spring 2018)

Barrett Honors College graduate with highest honors (Aug. 2014-May 2018)

Undergraduate Charter Award for Excellence, School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Arizona State University (Spring 2018)

Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi member (May 2017-May 2019)

Dean’s List, School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Arizona State University (Spring 2017; Fall 2017; Spring 2018)

Dean’s List, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Arizona State University (Fall 2014; Spring 2015; Fall 2015)

PAC-12 First Team All-Academic Award (Spring 2015; Fall 2015)

New American University Scholarship (full out-of-state undergraduate tuition) under National Merit Finalist program, Arizona State University (Aug. 2014-May 2018)


Editorial Assistant

Journal of Responsible Innovation

Work History

School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow (June 2019-present)

  • Presently performing public value-oriented qualitative analysis of creation, justification, and evaluation of the United States Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy research program
  • Performing literature review, data collection, and data analysis on “Participatory Governance of Emerging Technologies—Human Genome Editing,” a National of Institutes of Health-funded collaboration between SFIS and the Baylor College of Medicine aiming to develop policy recommendations regarding human genome editing based upon expert scenario development and robust public engagement.

Graduate Research Associate under Consortium for Science, Policy, & Outcomes Director Dr. Daniel Sarewitz and Associate Director Dr. Mahmud Farooque (May 2018-August 2019)

  • Performed workshop design, content development, event facilitation, data analysis, and publication drafting for “Exploring Democratic Governance of Solar Geoengineering Research,” an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation-funded project to study U.S. public views on geoengineering research.  Project aimed to bring underrepresented stakeholder groups into science policymaking processes and engaged 170 Phoenix and Boston residents in two seven-hour deliberations on the future of solar radiation management research.
  • Performed event facilitation and data analysis for “Our Driverless Futures,” a Charles Koch Foundation-funded project to study U.S. public views on the development and implementation of driverless vehicles.
  • Performed support work for HSD 517:  Uncertainty and Decision-Making (graduate science policy course); designed and implemented creative exercise on sources of epistemic uncertainty in scientific knowledge in class

Research Assistant to Dr. Michael Bennett (May-Sept. 2017)

  • Performed research on the legal right of publicity

Research Assistant to Dr. Darshan Karwat (May-Sept. 2017)

  • Studied current state of lay-audience resources for solar microgrid construction and opportunities to develop additional support resources

Research Assistant to Dr. Lauren Withycombe Keeler (May-Sept. 2017)

  • Designed and implemented AudaCITY, a game designed to teach strategic sustainability scenario visioning and value-oriented futures thinking skills to municipal executives

Planning, Consortium, and Content Committee Member for 2020 STGlobal Conference (August 2019-present)

  • Developed and implemented content, programming, and communications for a two-day, graduate-student-run science and technology studies and policy conference.

Grant Application Reviewer for 2019 Changemaker Central Community Action Grant, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

Graduate Fellowship Mentor at Office of National Scholarship Advising, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ (National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 2019-2020 cycle)

  • Advised ASU graduate fellowship applicants on strategy, organization, and writing for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

Intern at Center for the Study of Futures, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ (January 2017-May 2018)

  • Performed public science policy and creative civic discourse engagements (see “Presentations and Events”).  Engagement exercises are designed to foster value-oriented futures thinking and civil civic discourse among stakeholders alienated from policymaking processes.