By Katie Spofford ’22
When I joined the Global Research Institute as a Programming Research Assistant in the fall of 2019, I was overwhelmed by the sense of community felt walking into the third floor of the Institute known as the Canopy. Though multiple teams from different projects were scattered throughout the room, there was a warmth that William & Mary students have come to know and love. The feeling only grew as I began to help GRI host a myriad of events from Insider Insights to Career Panels. Through all of these, however, my stand-alone favorite was the fall Open House. Seeing people gather outside the Scotland Street house, I knew I wanted to grow my involvement with GRI as much as possible. While taking photos at the exhibition, I ended up talking to each project leader in turn. Among these was Professor Kaplow, speaking on his new research project, NukeLab, which is an undergraduate research lab dedicated to addressing policy questions on nuclear security, proliferation, and deterrence. I was already a student of Professor Kaplow, currently taking his International Security class. I reached out immediately after the open house and joined NukeLab for the Spring 2020 semester.
Professor Jeff Kaplow presenting on NukeLab during the Open House
As you may have guessed, this semester has not gone at all as planned. After just three meetings with my new research team, the whole school moved online. As someone who loves to collaborate, mainly through face-to-face interaction, this was hugely disappointing. Despite this setback, I saw the community spirit of the GRI persevere. NukeLab paused briefly before launching back into work. The team of eight and I now meet weekly over Zoom for a check-in and assignment of new tasks. The lab is currently divided into two unique sections: The Proliferation Risk project and the Future of Proliferation project. The former, my assigned project, has been hard at work finalizing a data set to track nuclear reactors. We examine those currently in play around the world and track which have gone dormant or been dismantled. From there, we have begun to model a “proliferation risk score,” a way to categorize states by the risk that they will develop nuclear weapons under specific circumstances. Meanwhile, the Future of Proliferation project has launched into case studies of nuclear pursuit, examining the ways in which drivers of nuclear proliferation have changed over time. That team’s goal is to understand which policy tools are most effective at addressing future threats of proliferation. Looking forward, NukeLab hopes to finish its case study work and develop their proliferation risk scoring tool. Students are hard at work writing code, analyzing literature, and building visualization tools.
In sum, COVID-19 has not put the brakes on NukeLab, nor the GRI. Few can say they carried on life as usual during these uncertain times, but Professor Kaplow has sought to create the closest experience possible to normal life in a research lab. Looking forward, NukeLab is now accepting applications for summer research assistants. Those with interest in international security or nuclear policy are encouraged to apply. I can only speak from my own experience, but I would urge anyone to join this amazing team!