Harker juniors Manan Shah and Tiffany Zhu, accompanied by computer science chair Eric Nelson, attended the Critical Issues Forum in mid-April, where they presented and viewed presentations by other high school students on issues related to nuclear nonproliferation.
The topic of the conference – which was held at Santa Catalina School in Monterey and sponsored by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) – was the likelihood of a nuclear detonation. Shah and Zhu crafted and delivered a presentation on several narrowly averted nuclear disasters, “which were caused by a combination of technical errors and human negligence,” said Shah. “We hope to learn from past encounters and recognize that significant changes must occur in the implementation of nuclear policy as well as the modernization of nuclear technology.”
The presentation was based on a 20-page paper composed by a team of 11 Harker students – Enya Lu, grade 9, and juniors Aashish Jain, Nikhil Manglik, Parth Pendurkar, Rahul Shukla, Arjun Subramaniam, Misha Tseitlin, Raymond Xu and Alex Youn, in addition to Shah and Zhu – “describing the urgency of reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world, identifying reasons that the world remained vulnerable to nuclear detonations and proposing measures for countries to achieve that goal,” Zhu said.
It was viewed by a number of key figures at the conference, among them former United States Secretary of Defense William Perry, who described the presentation as “excellent.” Other students in attendance also gave positive feedback on Shah and Zhu’s presentation, which inspired many questions about their proposal for disarmament as well as their insights on the today’s most dangerous nuclear threats.
Both Shah and Zhu described visiting and presenting at the Critical Issues Forum as a highly rewarding experience. For Shah, the highlight of the event was meeting and conversing with Perry, whom Shah described as “an amazing speaker who, having worked most of his career with nuclear weapons, is now working tirelessly to eliminate the weapons, which he considers a grave and dangerous threat to civilization.”
“I’m extremely grateful to have been able to partake in CIF,” Zhu said. “I gained my first taste of the arduous, but critical and ultimately rewarding task of proposing solutions to a wide-reaching problem, and without initially intending to, at the conference, I caught a glimpse of how diplomats and policymakers interact in real life.”