Description of Course Goals and Curriculum
The purpose of WWS 353, Science and Global Security: From Nuclear Weapons to Cyberwarfare has one primary goal: to provide students with the basic understanding of the science and technology relevant to important national and global security issues. While high school algebra is sufficient mathematical background to take WWS 353, understanding calculus and basic physics will be very helpful.
The material and the exercises (problem sets, simulations, exercises) all relate to the challenge of developing effective policies to manage security risks. The major topics covered are nuclear weapons and their proliferation, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, biological weapons and biosecurity (including SEIR), climate change, big data (and AI) and Cyberwarfare.
WWS 353 is typically taken by juniors and seniors as a Science Policy class mandated by the Woodrow Wilson School or as an interesting elective that touches upon many aspects of the relationship between Science and Public Policy.
Learning From Classroom Instruction
WWS 353 is a well-balanced course, at Princeton, with an average of 50-75 students. Professor Alexander Glaser, a physicist by training and an Assistant Professor who teaches both at the Woodrow Wilson School and in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, teaches it. The class is generally taught in Bowl 016, a bowl in Robertson Hall with excellent acoustics and a stadium seating setup. There were three preceptors who supplemented Professor Glaser’s teaching, all who brought a unique area of expertise.
Classes are organized by unit and are held twice a week for 80 minutes and are supplemented by a precept held once a week for 50 minutes. The class is rooted in understanding the theory behind what we are studying and are organized by topic. For example, the units in the Fall of 2016 were 1) Nuclear Weapons, 2) Biological Weapons and Biotechnology, 3) Energy, Climate, and Security, 4) Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Proliferation, 5a) Delivery Systems, 5b) Nuclear Strategy, Deterrence, and Arms Control, 6) Verification and 7) The Future (Big Data, AI and Cyberwarfare).
Professor Glaser specializes in nuclear theory and hence a disproportionate amount of time on Nuclear Energy, Nuclear Proliferation and Nuclear Warfare. To supplement his lack of expertise in other topics, Professor Glaser brings in guest lecturers who offer unique and real-world expertise to the classroom. For example, for a lecture on Cyberwarfare, Ed Skoudis, a computer scientist who specializes in developing simulations on cyber security for the military was brought in to explain the rigor in developing offensive and defensive attacks.
While the class revolves around a standard PowerPoint lecture, the class is based in current events. For examples, in the Fall of 2016, one lecture studied Iran’s JCPOA (taught by former Ambassador Mousavian) and another studied the spread of Ebola.
The precepts are used to supplement the theory learned in class by learning a variety of different equations and problem solving methods to contextualize the global policymaking in a scientific context and framework. For example, you will learn how to determine the yield of a nuclear bomb or figure out how fast a disease will spread.
Learning For and From Assignments
The problem sets assigned by Professor Glaser were often difficult and complex, requiring the need to attend office hours or working in study groups, something that is recommended. Problem sets are due in class, but it is recommended to start them well in advance so that you can take advantage of office hours should you get stuck. The advantage to the problem sets is that they really force you to think outside of the box to apply the theory learned in class coupled with the equations you learned in precept. Problem sets are only assigned during the first half of the semester. The second half of the semester revolves around a team project and presentation, which you work on around a topic you are interested. Anything is fair game, for example, my team studied the viability of a “leaked” super-weapon being developed by the Russians. There are also weekly blog posts, which allow for you to grapple with the readings with your classmates. There is a midterm exam and a final exam. Professor Glaser and the preceptors worked to make the exams manageable and they were in my opinion, easier than the assignments due to their exhaustive review sessions and relatively generous grading. The teaching team embraced technology, making extensive use of the discussion channel, Slack, utilizing a course website and assigning multimedia material for assignments.
There are many supplemental readings, which Professor Glaser made available in the syllabus. Should you ever have any questions the teaching team is always more than happy to answer them and provide resources on a particular topic. While it is an upperclassmen course, there were plenty of opportunities to ask for help and Professor Glaser always made it a point to make sure we understood what we were doing and why we were doing.
Office hours are also a valuable resource and underutilized by the majority of students. I found “googling” difficult concepts and just reading up on them immensely useful and my high school physics textbook helpful when solving the problem sets.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection
This is first and foremost a survey course. Rather than learn everything about one topic, the goal is to study a breadth of material relating science and global security. The lectures supplement the assignments and precept, which is where, in my opinion, most of the learning, actually takes place. The course provides value through its variety of assignments: blog posts, problem sets, projects and readings.