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Denia Djokić and Aditi Verma join NERS and Fastest Path

Djokić joined the team as an Assistant Research Scientist and Verma as an Assistant Research Scientist, and as an Assistant Professor in Fall 2022.

The U-M Department of Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences (NERS) and the Fastest Path to Zero Initiative have welcomed two new team members, Dr. Denia Djokić and Dr. Aditi Verma. Djokić and Verma were co-authors along with Katlyn M. Turner, Lauren J. Borja, and Madicken Munk, of “A call for antiracist action and accountability in the US nuclear community,” which was published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Most recently, Verma and Djokić together wrote an essay on Reimagining Nuclear Engineering for Issues in Science and Technology, the flagship journal of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 

Dr. Denia Djokić 

Djokić joined the Fastest Path team as an Assistant Research Scientist. She is also currently a 2021 Levenick Resident Scholar in Sustainability Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Djokić’s research interests lie broadly in the social and environmental justice aspects of the governance of nuclear energy technology. She is currently engaged in epistemic and institutional reimaginings of the nuclear field, particularly through modes of inquiry grounded in Science and Technology Studies and feminist scholarship. Her past research projects have encompassed technical and policy issues in radioactive waste management and advanced fuel cycle systems analysis.

I’m excited to be joining a team that is so creative and courageous in its novel approaches to thinking about nuclear energy technologies. I look forward to contributing to the Fastest Path to Zero mission with my diverse epistemic background, and am grateful that the team has been so warmly welcoming of me.

—Dr. Denia Djokić

Djokić assists the Fastest Path team in grounding approaches to zero-carbon energy system deployment in principles of social equity and environmental justice. She provides expertise and guidance in engaging with stakeholders and communities potentially impacted by the deployment of advanced nuclear energy technology.

Prior to joining the University of Michigan, Djokić was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs’ Project on Managing the Atom at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. There, she was also a Visiting Research Fellow at the Program for Science, Technology, and Society. Prior to her appointment at Harvard, Djokić served as an advisor on issues in policy and governance of science, technology, and innovation for the government of Ecuador.

Djokić holds an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering with a Designated Emphasis in Energy Science and Technology from the University of California, Berkeley, where she was a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management Graduate Student Fellow. She also holds a B.S. in Physics from Carnegie Mellon University.

“Denia has forged a totally new pathway for exploring the intersection of nuclear energy and the social sciences,” said Good Energy Collective Founder Suzanne Hobbs. “We are beyond thrilled to welcome her to the team.” Good Energy Collective is incubated by Fastest Path.

“Dr. Djokić has emerged as a leading international scholar in reimagining how nuclear engineering is performed and her joining Fastest Path will make us a stronger voice leading the field into a better 21st century,” said Fastest Path Founding Director Todd Allen.

Dr. Aditi Verma

Dr. Aditi Verma joined NERS as an Assistant Research Scientist and will become an Assistant Professor in Fall 2022. She will also support and interact with the Fastest Path team as a Faculty Associate. Verma is a Visiting Scholar at the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs Project on Managing the Atom, and former Stanton Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow at the Belfer Center where she was jointly appointed by the Project on Managing the Atom and the International Security Program. 

Prior to her appointment at Harvard, Verma worked at the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency in Paris where her work,  endorsed and funded by policymakers from the NEA member countries, focused on bringing epistemologies from the humanities and social sciences to academic and practitioner nuclear engineering, thus broadening their epistemic core and helping nuclear engineers grapple with the ethical, moral, social, economic, and policy challenges created by the development and use of nuclear technologies. 

I am delighted to be a part of Fastest Path and to join NERS – a department that thinks so expansively, deeply, and ambitiously about the role and future of nuclear technologies and of nuclear engineering itself as a discipline. I am excited to bring my dual sensibilities as a nuclear engineer and design researcher to the department’s research agenda and pedagogy and to work with my new colleagues to stretch the intellectual bounds of nuclear engineering as we have traditionally defined the field. Our ultimate goal should be to train nuclear engineers and create nuclear technology infrastructures that are better able to serve society.

Dr. Aditi Verma

Verma is broadly interested in how nuclear technologies specifically and complex technologies broadly—and their institutional infrastructures—can be designed in more just, equitable, creative, and participatory ways that are epistemically inclusive of both lay and expert perspectives. To this end, she is interested in developing a more fundamental understanding of the early stages of the design process to improve design practice and pedagogy, and also improve the tools with which designers of complex systems work.

Verma holds an S.B. and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Science and Engineering with a humanities concentration in French from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she was a Burchard Scholar and a Kelly-Douglas Fellow. 

“I appreciate the interdisciplinary lens Dr. Verma has applied across her work to nuclear engineering topics,” said Shanna Daly, U-M Mechanical Engineering associate professor and Miller Faculty Scholar. “I relate to her as an interdisciplinary scholar bringing new methods, theories, and lenses to questions of significance in her engineering discipline.”

“Dr. Verma’s work appropriately and interestingly leverages design scholarship to interpret processes of nuclear engineering practitioners as they design and refine nuclear reactors,” Daly continued. “Her research contributes to important questions in nuclear engineering and also important questions in design research. More specifically, her research contributes to questions about early-stage nuclear engineering design work and social elements that impact that engineering work. Her work demonstrates attention to issues of stakeholders, cultures, and social justice in nuclear engineering design, important and pressing topics of our times. Dr. Verma is poised to be a leader in studying design practices and processes in nuclear engineering that attend to the complexities of engineering decision-making, including social dimensions and implications of engineering work.”

Verma’s work authored for academic as well as policymaker audiences has been published in Nuclear Engineering and Design, Nature, Nuclear Technology, Issues in Science and Technology, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and Inkstick. She is the guest editor of a recent Nuclear Technology special issue that seeks to epistemically bridge the academic and practitioner nuclear engineering with the humanities and social sciences. 

“We are very happy to have Aditi join our department and the Fastest Path Initiative,” said Allen. “She is a creative voice who will help the nation modernize its approaches in the design and deployment of nuclear energy technologies. “ 

“The work being done by Dr. Verma and Dr. Djokic is intended to confront head-on the long-neglected dimensions of nuclear policy that, frankly, have contributed to nuclear’s struggle to occupy its legitimate seat at the table with other decarbonization technologies,” said Kristine Svinicki, Adjunct Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences. Svinicki is chair emeritus of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and was also its longest-serving member over a tenure spanning thirteen years.  “The presence of Aditi and Denia at Fastest Path to Zero and the department is not only a natural fit but also further situates NERS as a thought leader in the emerging dialogues around advanced nuclear technologies and their place in society.”

The Fastest Path to Zero Initiative was founded in 2019 when the University of Michigan Energy Institute and the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences partnered to form a cross-campus team of interdisciplinary experts to tackle difficult research questions about how policymakers, researchers, and communities can work together to meet ambitious climate goals in Michigan and across the nation. Within the University of Michigan we work to: build unique research partnerships across the university and with outside partners; connect key research insights with policymakers; administer awards and support grantmaking; and train students for specialized research and engagement roles in the growing clean energy workforce.

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