Training Scientists for the Long, Global Struggle Against Nuclear Weapons
April 10, 2023 | Perspectives | Nuclear Challenges

Zia Mian and Frank Von Hippel of Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security write about decades-long work to create a global network of nuclear disarmament policy scientists and training the next generation to help reduce nuclear dangers.


For five decades, Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security (SGS) has been educating and training scientists to advance nuclear arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament. It has helped build a diverse global research community and fostered critical new ideas and approaches to address nuclear dangers. As nuclear threats begin to grow again, SGS is working to prepare another generation of scientists for this struggle.

SGS is one of the oldest and most highly regarded academic technical and policy programs focused on nuclear issues in the world. Founded by physicists within Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science in 1974, it moved to Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs in 2001. For most of the time MacArthur has funded SGS—first through the Foundation’s International Peace and Security program and later as part of its Nuclear Challenges Big Bet—it has focused on preparing young scientists to understand and challenge dangerous and deeply entrenched nuclear weapons policies and institutions.


Creating a Global Network of Scientists

Through its decades of education and training, SGS helped create an international network of researchers in academia, government, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations working on nuclear policy. And some SGS PhDs, postdoctoral researchers, and visitors have founded programs in other countries and the U.S., making SGS a hub of an international network of sister programs.

One key network has brought Indian and Pakistani physicists to Princeton since 1998 to collaborate on addressing nuclear dangers in South Asia. Another is the International Panel on Fissile Materials founded by SGS in 2006 with a grant from MacArthur. This sixteen-country group of experts develops initiatives to end military and civilian production and stockpiling of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, the key ingredients in nuclear weapons. Its work attracts attention from governments around the world. 

Students, early career researchers, and established scientists from around the world who were seeking to become more informed and engaged in nuclear weapons policy debates have sought out the program. After their time at SGS, many made career missions of informing nuclear policy debates and decision-making in their own countries and globally. SGS in recent years has hosted postdoctoral researchers, visitors, and students from Brazil, Britain, China, Croatia, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Japan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.


students gathered together on stairs for a group photo

Participants at the Princeton School on Science and Global Security.


Coming from diverse backgrounds, students develop important perspectives on key nuclear policy issues.

The SGS approach to teaching and mentoring provides students, next-generation scientists, and established scientists an apprenticeship in real-world nuclear policy analysis and engagement through close collaboration with senior SGS researchers. The primary focus is on scientists—especially physicists. This reflects the citizen-scientist approach that is the hallmark of SGS. Coming from diverse backgrounds, students develop important perspectives on key nuclear policy issues, learn how nuclear policy is made and implemented, and see the role of technical analysis in informing policy debates and decisions. Collaborations with early career researchers and visitors often last for years after they have left the program and sometimes have been career-long.

SGS hosts and edits the international peer-reviewed journal Science & Global Security, founded in 1989, providing scientists worldwide an open forum for discussions on the technical basis for nuclear arms control and disarmament initiatives. Another commitment to the long-haul on nuclear policy reform is the Princeton School on Science and Global Security, which SGS co-founded at the end of the Cold War with a sister group at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Managed for several decades by physicists at the Union of Concerned Scientists, in 2020 it moved to SGS. The school brings together early career scientists from around the world to learn technical and policy perspectives on how to reduce and end the threat from nuclear weapons. It aims to build a diverse community of young scientists with shared values and commitments to using their skills to cooperatively address the global risks created by nuclear weapons.

More recently, SGS led in the establishment of the Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction, with nearly 1,000 members. It is working with colleagues internationally to establish counterpart groups in other countries.


a group of four middle-aged men smiling

SGS has brought together Indian and Pakistani physicists since 1998 to collaborate on research and writing to understand and explain nuclear dangers in South Asia and propose measures to address them. Pictured from left to right are A.H. Nayyar, M.V. Ramana. Ramamurti Rajaraman, Zia Mian.


Looking Ahead: Building the Next Generation of Scientists

Two decades into the 21st century, the worldwide need for another generation of disarmament science and policy researchers is increasingly evident. The Cold War and post-Cold War U.S.-Soviet/Russian nuclear arms control process aimed at capping, reducing, and making less politically relevant the world’s largest nuclear arsenals has faltered. Priority has shifted to arsenal modernization and possibly renewed nuclear arms racing.

There continues to be a long-term need for technically trained researchers committed to working on nuclear disarmament science and policy issues.

Globally, the five nuclear weapons states in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (the U.S., Russia, UK, France, and China) show no progress in meeting their five-decade-old obligation to end nuclear arms development and achieve disarmament. Another four nuclear-armed states (Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea) are not treaty parties. There are growing concerns about further nuclear proliferation, especially in the Middle East and East Asia.

One hopeful sign is that almost half of the 193 members of the United Nations already have signed the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). It comprehensively bans nuclear weapons, their use, and the threat of their use. Most signatories are from the Global South, where no countries have nuclear weapons. SGS researchers and their international collaborators are working with the governments and non-governmental organizations leading the TPNW movement.

To address all these issues, there continues to be a long-term need for technically trained researchers committed to working on nuclear disarmament science and policy issues within and beyond their national borders. SGS remains committed to helping to develop and foster this network of experts working to end the risk of nuclear war and support a peaceful global human community.


Since 2001, MacArthur has supported Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security with more than $18 million in grants, including $1 million as part of the Nuclear Challenges capstone.

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