We are happy to announce that our team was recently awarded a sizeable grant to expand its virtual reality work together with Games for Change (G4C), a nonprofit corporation that supports the creation and distribution of digital media games for humanitarian and educational purposes. The project will build on engagement at G4C’s annual festivals, including the upcoming VR for Change Summit on August 2, which will bring together developers, storytellers, educators, and researchers using VR, AR and other immersive technologies in new ways. The grant is one of a number of projects recently awarded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “to support projects aimed at reducing nuclear risk through innovative and solutions-oriented approaches.”
The two-component project will employ virtual reality (VR) to support innovation, collaboration, and public awareness in nuclear arms control, with overlapping benefits to nuclear security. The first component, led by Princeton and geared toward experts, will develop full-motion VR to design and simulate new arms-control treaty verification approaches, with outputs relevant to reducing and securing weapons and fissile materials. With stalled progress toward further reductions of nuclear weapons and countries embarking on wide scale upgrades to their arsenals, building new mechanisms for cooperation in this area is essential. The VR project seeks to establish a new way for technical experts to collaborate that goes beyond the traditional exchange of ideas at conferences and workshops. It aims to offer, in particular, a way to overcome some of the confidence-building challenges that may hinder direct cooperation between countries on how to approach nuclear-weapon and fissile-material monitoring. Cooperative design and simulation exercises will seek to showcase new opportunities for state-to-state cooperation in arms control and nuclear security offered by VR. The project team aims to disseminate the findings to audiences like the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Verification in Geneva through live demonstrations.
Mobilizing the public to engage with nuclear policy issues also remains a critical task for future progress. The second component, led by Games for Change, will therefore develop VR material for the public on the dangers from nuclear weapons and fissile materials. The U.S. presidential election campaign in 2016 and its aftermath has brought to the surface latent public concerns about the risks of deliberate nuclear-weapon use and even nuclear war. The aim of the VR experience will therefore be to show the risks associated with fissile-material stockpiles and large arsenals on high alert as a means to encourage greater engagement by the public in nuclear policy and decision-making. The project aims to build on the already high level of public interest in VR applications, not only for entertainment, but also for news and education applications. Established organizations are beginning to embrace the medium, resulting in more widespread public consumption of information using VR platforms. Results will be featured at the Games for Change Festivals, with the goal of engaging direct industry support for development and widespread distribution through VR app stores.
Future arms control agreements may require trusted verification mechanisms aimed at confirming the authenticity of items presented as nuclear warheads. In the last five years, our team has been pioneering a warhead verification approach based on the cryptographic concept of zero-knowledge proofs. This approach could allow the authentication of nuclear warheads without sharing any design information.
The original idea was published in Nature in June 2014. Since then, we have been working on the development of a zero-knowledge object-comparison system and the procedures for its use in nuclear warhead inspections. The demonstration of such a system is now outlined in a Nature Communications article published on September 20, 2016.
For more information, you can check our zero-knowledge warhead verification project page. The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory has made a video about the experiments (see the press release here).
Alex Wellerstein has written a nice story about our work and experiments in the New Yorker.
The Nuclear Futures Lab has recently established a presence at StudioLab — a new 2500 sq. ft space on campus developed by the Council on Science and Technology to bring together students, faculty and staff, independent of area of concentration, to explore the intersections and shared creativity across STEM, the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Programmatic initiatives within the StudioLab will include courses, labs, studios, research, projects, workshops and events.
The NFL recently installed its Full Motion Virtual Reality (FMVR) system in the space, which will give students and faculty new opportunities to conduct research through virtual reality. The NFL is currently using the system to design and examine new treaty verification systems and architectures for nuclear arms control. Notional facilities and weapons are built as 3D models, and when these are brought to life in FMVR, researchers are able to conduct live, immersive simulations that will help to hone effective verification options for future treaties.
For this first demonstration, we tried to implemented all key steps of a zero-knowledge inspection using 14-MeV DT neutron radiography with test items represented by patterns of steel and aluminum cubes. We were able to preload the bubble detectors with the complement of the radiograph of a reference item and, by subsequent irradiation, verify whether items presented for inspection were identical to the reference item or not. We confirmed that the results yielded “zero information” when valid items were tested and successfully identified tampered items for four different diversion scenarios.
Watch this space for updates as we evaluate new measurements and write up the journal version of the paper.
We are happy to announce that we are part of the consortium that has been awarded the $25 million five-year grant to improve nuclear arms control verification technology (see NNSA press release from March 31, 2014). The consortium will be led by the University of Michigan, and also involves MIT, Columbia, North Carolina State, University of Hawaii, Pennsylvania State, Duke, University of Wisconsin, University of Florida, Oregon State, Yale, and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
Princeton leads a key research thrust of the consortium focused on the relevant policy dimensions: “Treaty Verification: Characterizing Existing Gaps and Emerging Challenges.” Together with PPPL, we will also be able to expand our technical work on zero-knowledge approach to nuclear warhead verification and will be developing a virtual environment to support development, testing, and demonstration of verification approaches for these treaties. We will report regularly at nuclearfutures.princeton.edu on the progress of this exciting opportunity. Watch this space.