Student to conduct nuclear policy survey on campus

Senior computer science major Josh Schnarr reads the newspaper every day. However, he said he didn?t know any specific information about U.S. nuclear policy.
That may change over the next four weeks as part of an independent study project by Erik Sorenson, a senior in the physics department. Sorenson will attempt to measure, then enhance, CMU students? knowledge of nuclear weapons policy through a series of surveys and articles over the next month.
Despite its importance as a part of international policy, information about nuclear weapons isn?t often reported in the news, said Lincoln Wolfenstein, professor emeritus of physics and Sorenson?s advisor for the project.
Wolfenstein, whose interest in nuclear issues dates back to when he learned of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, has taught several classes on nuclear weapons issues during his 57-year tenure at CMU. The most recent incarnation was offered in the fall semester of 2004 and incorporated elements of both physics and engineering and public policy.
Sorenson was one of the students taking the class for a physics requirement. Before enrolling, he said that he had heard about nuclear issues in the news, but added, ?It?s kind of become a hobby since then.? He approached Wolfenstein over the summer about creating a related project for the upcoming semester.
?I kind of wanted to take something non-technical,? he said, ?so I was trying to think of an independent study.?
Sorenson eventually decided to examine U.S. nuclear weapons policy and how it fits into the global perspective through a series of surveys that will be passed out in classes and printed in The Tartan. Sorensen said he would also be advertising them by tabling and posting flyers around campus.
One aim of the project is to ascertain, in a qualitative way, what people know about nuclear weapons, Wolfenstein said, but the work includes an educational component as well.
After each poll is conducted, Sorenson plans to reveal the answers and present new information in weekly articles that will be published in The Tartan. ?The goal is to raise awareness on campus, and for myself ... of what are the nuclear issues today,? Sorenson said. ?I think it?s important for students and [for] myself to understand what our nation is putting out there.?
?We feel nuclear weapons policies are one of the most important issues that face our country and mankind,? Wolfenstein agreed.
Wolfenstein said he wasn?t sure what students? level of knowledge about nuclear weapons and policy would be, noting, ?It?s in the back of their heads, not in the front.?
Schnarr said he thought students would know that the U.S. has nuclear weapons and roughly which other countries do as well. He did, however, expect ?I don?t know? to be a popular response to multiple-choice questions.
Sorenson said he had no predictions for what the knowledge level of the respondents would be. ?I hope people are responsive,? he said. ?Even if they don?t respond, I hope they read the answers next week.?