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Michael Levi

SSHRC William E. Taylor Fellowship

Michael Levi concerns himself with the kind of plots that fill movie theatres—and give security specialists nightmares. Imagine, he proposes, that a terrorist group wants to build and explode a nuclear bomb. Exactly how do they go about it? More importantly, how do we stop them?

The obvious solution is to lock the materials up: they can’t make a bomb if they don’t have the ingredients. But though he agrees that locking the barn door is a good policy, Levi, virtually alone in the academic community, is focusing on the things we can do if the horse does get out. One example: he is using what we know about illicit drug deals to model a potential transaction between criminals with stolen material and terrorists who want to build a bomb.

Levi’s research will form the basis of the PhD he is pursuing at King’s College London. The degree is in war studies, but he began his academic career in the natural sciences. An outstanding physics student, he held an NSERC grant while studying string theory for his master’s at Princeton.

But public policy was where his true interest lay, and he followed Princeton with a job as director of the Strategic Security Project for the Federation of American Scientists. He was made a fellow at Washington’s prestigious Brookings Institution (a position he still holds), and his list of publications includes refereed articles in Nature and Scientific American, a regular column in The New Republic Online, commentary in the Washington Post and Foreign Policy, and, recently, The Future of Arms Control, a peer-reviewed book he co-authored that has won praise from such figures as Henry Kissinger and Thomas Schelling.

Clearly, there is an audience for Levi’s groundbreaking thinking, and in fact government officials have already expressed interest in his thesis. They recognize the truth in what Levi says: like it or not, “you have to think about what’s going to happen when the alarm goes off.”