Since its inception, the K=1 Project has aimed to provide unique and innovative educational opportunities on topics related to nuclear technologies.


While teaching Frontiers of Science, a required freshman science course, Emlyn Hughes, Professor of Physics at Columbia University, became increasingly aware of the connection between the dangers of nuclear proliferation and the scientific foundation of nuclear energy. He decided to organize a group of young people who could approach the topic from a fresh and thoughtful perspective. In 2011, Professor Hughes selected a group of six Columbia students to comprise a nuclear proliferation study group. The six students had varying academic interests but were all deeply passionate about exploring the problem of nuclear proliferation and communicating the problem, along with potential solutions, to a wider audience.

That summer, those six students produced Chain Reaction, an original documentary about the 21st century manifestation of the nuclear threat. Working over the course of ten weeks, the group members wrote papers on topics that they found particularly compelling, such as waste disposal solutions, nuclear safety inspections, and energy policy. They then worked together to shape a documentary that highlighted the most pressing issues they came across. Towards the end of the summer, the group traveled to Los Alamos, New Mexico to see for themselves the site of the first nuclear bomb test. Having spent weeks reading and interviewing people about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and countless hours discussing changing views and concerns on the topic, the chance to see the historical site where it all began was inspiring and provided a powerful influence for the well-received documentary.



In the summer of 2012, two returning students and four new students were centered in Geneva, Switzerland at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Dr. Ivana Nikolic Hughes also joined the project. The group of six students spent the summer continuing the work of the year before by developing the K1 project. In particular, this included the creation of this website as an educational tool, as well as the production of a second documentary on nuclear power and its future.

For these projects, the students traveled to countries such as England, France and Germany to interview experts in the field of nuclear research. These interviews were used in the students’ film and are available here. The interviews provided a basis for the students’ individual areas of study as well – allowing them to find more relevant topics to research that fit their multi-disciplinary backgrounds.

Being in Europe allowed the group to explore the European nuclear situation, complementing the prior year’s project, which was primarily focused on the United States. When not working on individual research, students spent much of their time discussing power, proliferation, current events and what they have learned from the interviews. Together, they wrote the film’s narrative and edited the footage they gathered to finalize the documentary.

With backgrounds in economics, history, languages, philosophy, physics, political science, and sustainable development, the students were active in presenting their own interests and ideas before group members. With interviews on economics, policy and science, students  learned about the many aspects of nuclear power and represent the variety of debates that have sprung from the exploration of nuclear power.



In the summer of 2013, the K1 Project worked to expand its reach through a number of parallel efforts.  A group of Columbia students worked on two creative films, in Geneva, Switzerland. The students wrote scripts, hired actors and filmed both movies during an 8-week period. A third creative movie was filmed in Brooklyn, New York, by a group of NYU students.Two of these films (Hiroshima Girl and Before Recently) were screened at Columbia University to a large audience of undergraduate students.

In fall of 2013, the K1 Project hosted a panel on Nuclear Disarmament featuring Dr. Richard Garwin, author of the design used in the first hydrogen bomb, Dr. Randy Rydell, Senior Political Affairs Office in the Office of Ms. Angela Kane, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations, and Zach Weinersmith, author and illustrator of the webcomic  Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (SMBC). The panel was moderated by Dr. Ivana Nikolic-Hughes.



Building on past initiatives, the K1 Project continued to create new programs to generate an environment for rational and informed decision-making regarding questions of nuclear security and energy. Two distinct projects were carried out in the summer: an investigation of the Nuclear Zero lawsuits, which resulted in a documentary Marshalling Peace, and an animation lab effort, which resulted in Amalia. Both were released in Fall 2015.


On Location: Marshall Islands Suing for Peace

Between 1946 and 1962, sixty seven nuclear bombs were detonated by the U.S. on the Marshall Islands, including Castle Bravo, a 15 megaton bomb, more than 1,000 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima. The decades of testing left a lasting legacy of nuclear concern among the people of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Alarmed by the failure of the U.S. and other nuclear powers to move towards disarmament, the small collection of islands has taken a bold step. It has filed a set of lawsuits against nine nations, including the U.S., for failing to comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). 

Exploring the motivations and implications of this David-and-Goliath battle for peace, members of the K1 team -- including current Columbia students and a recent graduate -- completed a short film, titled Marshalling Peace, documenting the people involved in the lawsuits. The team interviewed and collaborated with influential figures in government and policy, such as former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry (top left), former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (bottom left), and top government officials of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, including Foreign Minister Tony De Brum.


Creative Angles on the Cold War

Vividly reflecting the K1 Project's creative and unique approach to nuclear issues, the K1 Animation Lab members (right) worked to bring to life the lessons of responsibility, fear, and uncertainty embedded in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Our animators, including current and recently graduated students from New York University, crafted Amalia, a Spanish-language, stop-motion film based on an original script. 

Amalia is set in October of 1962, when the world narrowly avoided nuclear war. After an American U-2 spy plane photographed the construction of Soviet nuclear missile sites on the island of Cuba, President Kennedy placed a naval blockade around the island and demanded the removal of the missiles. For thirteen days, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. hung on the brink of a devastating war, until Soviet leader Khrushchev agreed to a deal that dismantled the weapon sites. Though the resolution was peaceful, the situation was extremely delicate as fear and tension ran high. In so fragile an end to the conflict, questions of responsibility, intentions, and freedom bubbled to the surface -- themes explored in Amalia set in a not-so-distant, what-if reality.


Read more about the inception of the K=1 Project here.


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