Before starting a PhD in Astrophysics at the University of Colorado Boulder, Jessica lived and worked in Alaska helping fight wildfires. Spending her free time backpacking around Alaska and Western Canada, she was struck for the first time by the tangible impacts of climate change: record summer heat, melting permafrost, retreating glaciers. Realizing her passion lay in solving problems down here on earth, Jessica switched into a graduate program focused on environmental policy, with a focus on energy. Although her coursework focused broadly on renewable energy, Jessica was struck by the lack of coverage of nuclear power considering it made up such a large share of global clean energy. To remedy this curriculum gap, Jessica developed and co-taught a graduate seminar looking at nuclear power from an interdisciplinary lens.
Around this time, the Breakthrough Institute was looking to expand their expertise in nuclear energy and hired Jessica when she graduated to focus on nuclear policy as part of their Energy & Climate program. From 2012–2019, Jessica developed expertise in advanced nuclear technologies and nuclear economics. She also developed policies to accelerate nuclear innovation and commercialization of new designs. In 2015 she became Director of Breakthrough’s energy program, and expanded her scope to look at decarbonization and energy policy more broadly.
Wanting to deepen her understanding of nuclear policy, Jessica returned to graduate school in 2017 to complete a PhD at Carnegie Mellon University in Engineering and Public Policy. Her research focuses on how commercial nuclear trade affects international security standards and how very small nuclear reactors could be deployed at the community level. She is also a Fellow with the Energy for Growth Hub, looking at how advanced nuclear can be deployed in emerging economies.