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September 2022 (Volume 31, Number 8)
100 colloquia and 4,000 attendees later, the coalition counts its successes.
By Tawanda W. Johnson | August 8, 2022
When the Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction formed two years ago, Stewart C. Prager, co-founder of the organization, was cautiously optimistic about its future.
Fast forward to today, and the coalition has achieved more than Prager thought possible. Among its accomplishments: The organization has held more than 100 colloquia on nuclear weapons, reaching more than 4,000 attendees. Membership has grown to about 850 people, and members have participated in three advocacy campaigns aimed at ensuring that explosive nuclear testing does not resume, extending the New START treaty, and enacting a no-first-use policy.
“My expectations have been exceeded,” said Prager, professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University and member of the Program on Science and Global Security, about the coalition’s success.
The organization is wrapping up its partnership with APS, per guidelines outlined by the APS Innovation Fund, which supported the organization. The Carnegie Corporation also funded the coalition, and its support will continue beyond October 2022.
The coalition was launched to inform, engage, and mobilize the US physics community around the dangers of the world’s nuclear weapons, and to build a network of scientist-advocates for nuclear arms control and disarmament policies. More than half the coalition's members are early-career scientists, including students, postdocs, and junior faculty members.
“[Early-career physicists] have latched onto this issue, despite an overload of major issues confronting them, as well as their lack of exposure to the Cold War,” said Prager. “They fully appreciate the threat and opportunity as physicists to make a difference.”
One of the coalition’s first advocacy activities was to push, along with many other arms control organizations, for a five-year extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the US and Russia. Advocates sent more than 175 letters to Congress. In early 2021, the Biden Administration extended New START through 2026, maintaining the current arms control regime and providing both governments time to negotiate a future agreement.
“[APS Government Affairs staff] provided guidance and execution in both advocacy and communication with coalition members,” said Prager.
The coalition’s Next Generation Fellowship saw major achievements, too. The fellowship sought to diversify and strengthen participation of graduate students, postdocs, and early-career scientists and engineers, especially women and members from underrepresented groups—and so far in 2022, the coalition has more than doubled its number of fellows.
“During the fellowship, I met other scientists who were interested in policy and who actually worked on it, so my interest in policy became more attainable as a career option,” said Barbara Cruvinel Santiago, a PhD candidate at Columbia University and previous Next-Generation fellow. She has analyzed how Brazilian nuclear policy has evolved since the 1950s and why the country’s nuclear policy changed dramatically in the last few years.
Angela DiFulvio, assistant professor at the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign, who serves as chair of the Next-Generation Fellowship, said she was pleased to see a three-fold increase in applications since last year.
“The enthusiasm of physics students and early-career scientists for the work of the coalition is a tangible sign of the success of the colloquia,” she said. “For me, it is inspiring to work with the fellows and their mentors and see the growth of a vibrant and diverse community of informed advocates on the nuclear weapon threat and its reduction.”
As for the coalition’s future, the organization has formed a new partnership with the Arms Control Association to help further its goals. Prager explained the coalition will try to reach more physicists and other physical scientists, such as nuclear engineers, astronomers, and geophysicists. The organization also seeks to expand its advocacy initiatives and partner with physicists from other nations on the global nuclear issue.
“APS is proud of the work the coalition has accomplished, especially establishing scientist-advocates who can better navigate nuclear issues within a science policy context,” said Francis Slakey, APS Chief External Affairs Officer.
Tawanda W. Johnson is APS Senior Public Relations Manager.
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