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Bridging the Worlds of Science and Policy

Georgia Institute Of Technology : 15 October, 2003  (New Product)
Two months ago computer scientist Giovanni Iachello, nuclear engineer Diane Norris, and physicist Jacob Sauer didn't know each other, but now they debate each week over the latest international policy and security issues in a weekly seminar of the Sam Nunn Security Program at Georgia Tech. Iachello, Norris and Sauer, members of the first class of 10 fellows in the Nunn Security Program, are learning about international security and policy issues related to the technologies they research and develop. The purpose of the Sam Nunn Security Program is to bring together technologists and scientists with international policy experts to learn about these bigger issues so they will have a better understanding of how their technologies affect the world at-large.
In a recent speech to the fellows, former Senator Sam Nunn said, 'Bridges must be built between the world of science and the world of human relations. Bridges, which can give shape and purpose to our science, can breathe heart and soul into our new technologies. Together scientists and policy makers must help our citizens reap the benefits of our exploding scientific knowledge and together we must protect this generation and future generations from the dark side of this explosion.'

Norris, a nuclear engineering Ph.D. student, currently researches radiation and biological particle dispersion in buildings, as might be seen in a terrorist event using a radiological dispersion device explosion or a bioterrorist event inside a building. Norris says she gravitated towards analyzing the policy side of this topic, such as needing to revisit first responder instructions for this type of terrorist event in order to reduce risks to the public. When she heard about the Nunn Security program, she jumped at the opportunity to add a solid security policy dimension to her doctoral research.

'Ultimately, the goal is to study how these deadly particles travel inside buildings to help better protect the public from subsequent inhalation doses,' says Norris. 'I personally benefit from this Nunn Security Program because it gives me the opportunity to couple science with policy that could potentially be used to save lives in the future.'

The Nunn Program fellows participate in a weekly 3-hour seminar, requiring intensive readings to prepare for the robust class discussions and debate. Topics range from regional national security threats to cybersecurity and border security. Some weeks international affairs faculty introduce a topic followed by discussion by the entire class. Other weeks the seminar features guest lecturers such as Nunn, representatives from the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory Council to name a few.

'The structure of the seminar is surprising to me. Class participation is plentiful and aggressive, while still remaining civilized. The diversity of the class introduces a range of viewpoints, some of them strongly against my fundamental beliefs. Most surprisingly, in contrast to mathematical, scientific, or engineering classes, the topics in this seminar are highly subjective in nature and require much different tactics to understand problems,' said physics Ph.D. student Sauer.

Computer science Ph.D. student Iachello's research has shifted from his previous work in information technology security toward ubiquitous computing (ubicomp), a new way to look at computing systems, where computing is embedded in every-day artifacts, architecture and infrastructure, such as seen in experimental smart houses. In ubicomp, objects operate actively and invisibly to the benefit of their users, such as safety systems in automobiles, automatic tracking to find lost objects in homes, or automatic conference recording. As computers become more pervasive, these concerns will continue to grow.

'These technologies carry with them a host of policy issues, ranging from privacy protection to the responsibility associated to automatically functioning systems, on which I am currently concentrating my efforts,' says Iachello.

The Nunn Security Program is designed to build bridges between policy, technology and the scientific community. Funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, over the next three years the Nunn Security Program will select young to mid-career scientists and technology experts for intensive year-long training in research approaches and policy methods for addressing national and international security issues. This first class of fellows began this fall.

'I've been very pleased by the pre-doctoral students in our program, and they come from a good spectrum of disciplines,' said Dr. John Endicott, co-principal investigator of the Nunn Security Program and professor of international affairs. 'Also, we have a few foreign-born participants in the program who bring different perspectives to the discussion on current events.'

'The Nunn Security Program has allowed us to broaden our scope and bring together a critical mass of people and resources on international security and policy issues, including our international affairs faculty, our CIA Officer-in-residence, former Ambassador John Kelly who is affiliated with our Center for International Strategy, Technology and Policy, and even engineering and computing faculty,' said Dr. Seymour Goodman, co-principal investigator of the Nunn Security Program and professor, in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and the College of Computing.

The grant also enabled the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs to add a new professor, Dr. Allison Macfarlane, with expertise in the science and policy of controlling nuclear waste, non-proliferation issues, and nuclear energy. A geologist by training who has done field work in such exotic places as Ecuador and Nepal, Macfarlane wanted to do more applied research and decided to apply her geological expertise to the critical issues of nuclear waste disposal and nuclear waste management. Macfarlane also has a joint appointment with Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

'My goal is to uphold what the MacArthur Foundation wants, apply more science and technology analysis to policy issues. I do this through teaching and working with the fellows, of which several have nuclear engineering backgrounds,' said Macfarlane.

During this first semester the Nunn Security Program is focusing on introducing the fellows to the policy and security issues to put everyone on an equal footing on these new concepts. In the spring, the program will be more active as the fellows travel on a number of research trips to regional security facilities including the Savannah River Site and to Washington D.C. to visit with high-level officials at the Pentagon and other non-governmental organizations. In addition, the fellows will concentrate on their required research papers to be presented during the semester. Not satisfied with just allowing his name to be on the program, Senator Nunn has expressed interest in seeing the fellows present their final papers. The next annual Sam Nunn Policy Forum will be held at Georgia Tech on March 23, 2004 and will focus on issues related to domestic preparedness for bioterrorism.
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