Interdisciplinary Courses in Nuclear Policy

Grant from the National Nuclear Security Administration will fund training for scientists and engineers in nuclear security policy.

November 4, 2016

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Allison MacFarlane, director of GW’s Center for International Science and Technology Policy and former chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

By Ruth Steinhardt

Recent ballistic missile tests in North Korea have brought nuclear nightmares to the forefront of the American imagination. As the global implications of nuclear innovation become more complex and potentially catastrophic, the engineers and scientists developing such programs are more than ever in need of a broad understanding of nuclear security policy.

To that end, the National Nuclear Security Administration this year awarded a $25 million grant in nuclear science and security to a consortium of schools including the George Washington University. The consortium, which is led by the University of California, Berkeley, and includes eight schools, will receive $5 million each year for the next five years to support academic programs and research in the field.

At GW, the total five-year grant of about $1.8 million will support not only individual research projects but also interdisciplinary training in nuclear security policy for scientists and engineers.

“It’s important that people who know the technical aspects of nuclear weapons and weapon materials are aware of the security and policy regimes that they’ll be working within,” said Allison MacFarlane, director of GW’s Center for International Science and Technology Policy and former chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “This is a very present, current issue, and it’s crucial to understand the overall context.”

Dr. MacFarlane, a professor of public policy and international affairs in the Elliott School of International Affairs, will lead the grant-funded initiatives at GW. She will work with Phillippe Bardet, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the School of Engineering and Applied Science; Chris Cahill, professor of chemistry at the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and of international affairs at ESIA; and Emily Hammond, professor of law and associate dean for public engagement at GW Law School.

The university will host a summer “boot camp” in 2017, bringing graduate students from consortium schools to GW for intensive background courses on nuclear security policy. These courses—developed in concert by faculty from across the disciplines—will provide historical and political context for the scientific work these students will do.

Participants also will have the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill for discussions with policymakers and experts in the field of nuclear security.

“Scientists have a long history of affecting nuclear security policy in the U.S. and other countries,” Dr. MacFarlane said. “The reason we developed nuclear weapons in the first place is basically that Einstein and other important scientists went to President Harry Truman and said ‘The Germans are developing these technologies, so we should too.’ There’s a lot of advising at the highest level done by scientists and engineers.”