Jody A. Roberts (PhD, Science and Technology Studies) is director of the Institute for Research at the Science History Institute and managing director of the West Coast office. The Institute for Research initiates, coordinates, and conducts research at the core of the Science History Institute’s mission to foster dialogue on science and technology in society. In this capacity Roberts oversees the Science History Institute’s Centers for Oral History and Applied History and ensures that research bridges the institution’s unique ability to speak through museum exhibitions; live, print, and digital programming; and unparalleled collections in the history of science. The goals of our work are to develop the methods and tools that experiment with the unique capabilities of the science humanities to contribute to a more inclusive conversation about the place of science and technology in our lives; to share those tools with our peers; and to cultivate and mentor a new generation of science studies practitioner capable of taking these ideas out into the world.

As managing director of the Science History Institute’s West Coast office, Roberts is overseeing the institution’s efforts to bring its unique assets into conversation with regionally based audiences. The goal is to make this a model for helping the institution to balance its ability to be both hyper-local and international simultaneously.

Since joining our organization—first as a visiting fellow (2005–2007) and then as staff (2007– )—Roberts has experimented with ways in which we bring the intellectual core of science studies into the operations of a public-facing institution. Projects such as From Inception to Reform: An Oral History of the Toxic Substances Control Act and Sensing Change provided early templates for thinking about how we can open new conversations on topics that often seem impenetrable, hidden, or too politically charged. More recent and ongoing projects, such as REACH Ambler, have taken these lessons and continued to experiment with ways in which histories of the present provide platforms for speaking about possible futures.

Roberts’s research interests informed these early projects but has also been dramatically shaped by these experiences. He continues to work in the area of the history of sustainability and environmental regulation, but with a greater interest in developing tools for opening up narrative spaces that imagine sustainable futures. He is also beginning new research focused on the intersection of materials innovation and social innovation for disability needs.

In addition to his work at the Science History Institute, Roberts serves on the advisory board for SANDBOX at Washington College, as a senior fellow in the Environmental Leadership Program, and as research faculty in the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Drexel University. From 2013 to 2015 he served as a Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer.

Roberts’s work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, the Knight Foundation, and others.

Select Publications

  • Vogel, Sarah A., and Jody A. Roberts. 2011. “Why the Toxic Substances Control Act Needs an Overhaul, and How to Strengthen Oversight of Chemicals in the Interim.” Health Affairs 30(5), 898–905.
  • Roberts, Jody A. 2011. “Creating and Controlling Chemical Hazards: A Brief History.” In Global Collaborations in Managing Chemical and Environmental Risks, edited by Philip Wexler, Jan van der Kolk, Asish Mohapatra, and Ravi Agarwal, 3–14. London/New York: CRC Press.
  • Roberts, Jody A. 2008. New Chemical Bodies: A Conversation on Human Biomonitoring and Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals. Science History Institute, Philadelphia.
  • Choi, Hyungsub; Sarah Kaplan; Cyrus C. M. Mody; and Jody A. Roberts. 2008. Setting an Agenda for the Social Studies of Nanotechnology: A Summary of the Joint Wharton–Science History Institute Symposium on the Social Studies of Nanotechnology. Wharton and Science History Institute, Philadelphia.
  • Roberts, Jody A. 2013, “Reflections of an Unrepentant Plastiphobe.” Pp. 121-133 in Accumulation. Edited by Jennifer Gabrys, Gay Hawkins, and Mike Michael. London: Routledge.
  • Roberts, Jody A. 2014. “Politics in a Bottle: BPA, Children’s Health, and the Fight for Toxics Reform.” Pp. 183-195 in Controversies in Science and Technology, Volume 4. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Roberts, Jody A. 2014. “Unruly Technologies and Fractured Oversight: Towards a Model for Chemical Control for the Twenty First Century.” Pp. 254-268 in Powerless Science? The Making of the Toxic World in the Twentieth Century. Edited by Soraya Boudia and Nathalie Jas. Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books.

Select Presentations

  • “Pollution Prevention and Toxics Reform: Past, Present, and Future.” 2011. Delivered at EPA Region 3, Philadelphia, PA (September).
  • “From Inception to Reform: Unpacking the History of the Toxic Substances Control Act through Archives and Oral Histories.” [with Jessica Schifano]. 2010. Delivered at the AAAS (November).
  • “What’s So Scary about Nano? Current Trajectories and Future Directions in Exploring Nanotoxicology.” 2009. Delivered at the AAAS (March)
  • “Narrating Change: Using the Arts to Facilitate Community Engagement with Climate Change.” 2015. Society for the Social Studies of Science; Denver, CO
  • “Memory, Knowledge, and Experience: Using Oral History to Understand Place.” 2015. American Society for Environmental History; Washington, D.C.
  •  “Exploring the History of Ambler, PA.” 2015. 1st Annual Citizen Science Workshop. San Jose, CA.
  •  “Energy, Materials, Narrative.” 2014. Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry; Vancouver, BC
  • “Sensing the Anthropocene.” 2014. Artefacts. Deutsches Museum; Munich, Germany (with Dehlia Hannah)
  • “Sensing Change: How Art and Science Work to Communicate Climate Change.” 2014. Expert Knowledge and Public. Bielefeld University; Bielefeld, Germany
  • “Imagining the Future/Narrating the Past: Opportunities for the Humanities and Sciences to Build a Sustainable Society.” 2015. Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecture. Quinnipiac University; Hamden, CT
  • “Re-Inventing Green Chemistry: Alternative Histories for a Sustainable Science.” 2015. Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecture. Swarthmore College; Swarthmore, PA
  • “Facts and Uncertainty: Historical Perspectives on the Problem of Controversy in Science.” 2014. Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecture. Ursinus College; Collegeville, PA
  • “Re-inventing Green Chemistry: Alternative Histories for a Sustainable Science.” 2014. History and Politics Colloquium. Drexel University; Philadelphia, PA
  • “Sensing Change: How Art and Science Work to Communicate Environmental Change.” 2014. Hamilton College; Clinton, NY

Webinars, Podcasts, Interviews, and News Items