French Polynesia

Global Scholars Program in French Polynesia: Nuclear Weapons & Nuclear Testing

Language of Instruction: English
French Polynesia
Term: Spring, Summer

Spend the summer immersed in studying the French nuclear testing program in French Polynesia and Paris.

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Global Scholars Program Introduction

The Global Scholars Program (GSP) is an innovative study abroad program led by one or more faculty members with relevant regional and disciplinary expertise, offering undergraduates a unique hands-on international research experience in topics of transnational importance, using social science, humanities, and scientific frameworks. On these programs, global topics are explored in more than one location, giving students first-hand opportunities to understand and compare how local communities approach various issues.

GSP was launched in 2012 as a pilot program by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, with generous support from the President’s Office. In 2017, it transitioned to a joint initiative between the Center for Undergraduate Global Engagement (UGE) and Columbia Global Centers.

The full GSP experience includes a course taught on campus to prepare the students for an overseas field experience.

Global Scholars Program in French Polynesia: Nuclear Weapons & Nuclear Testing

Students who have completed the Summer 2021 or Fall 2021 course SCNC UN3001: Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Testing will be invited to apply to the Global Scholars Program (GSP). The GSP begins with an on campus spring semester course that focuses on the impact of nuclear testing on French Polynesia and compares it with what transpired on the Marshall Islands, where the indigenous population was also affected by nuclear testing performed by other nuclear weapons states. During this time, students will be assigned to teams, develop tools, and learn how to use the specific instruments needed to conduct field research.

Following the spring seminar, students will spend part of the summer immersed in studying the French nuclear testing program in French Polynesia, both onsite and by visiting the Columbia Global Center in Paris. During this time, students will conduct and film interviews with nuclear testing survivors, government representatives, and activists in both locations in addition to producing a proposal for a radiological study of French Polynesia.

This Global Scholars Program (GSP) builds upon the The K=1 Project, established as a Center at Columbia by the GSP Faculty Directors, that provides students with the chance to participate in ongoing education, outreach, and research on nuclear technologies. In 2015, The K=1 Project began investigating the nuclear legacy of the Marshall Islands, the site of the US nuclear testing program in the 1940’s and 1950’s. This research has resulted in four publications that has received wide international attention and represents one of the only independent efforts, besides studies by the US DOE, to ascertain the environmental contamination from nuclear weapons testing.

There are numerous parallels between what happened in the Marshall Islands and what happened in French Polynesia. By utilizing the expertise from the Marshall Islands study to address related questions in a new geographic region, GSP students will be participating in the early stages of a new research project to understand the impact of the French testing program in the Pacific.

Eligibility and Application

  • Open to undergraduate Columbia and Barnard students in good academic standing
  • Open to any major but students must have completed SCNC UN3001: Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Testing in addition to Frontiers of Science, Art of Engineering, or the equivalent.
  • Minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA


Want to apply? Click the “Start Your Application" button at the top of this page. If the button doesn't appear above, the program is not yet accepting applications. You will be asked to set up a short profile, which will allow us to send you relevant information about your application. Once you’ve created a profile, you will see a checklist of items that you will need to submit. These generally include:

  • Application questionnaire(s)
  • Personal statement
  • Official transcript(s)
  • One Academic Recommendation (from your time at Columbia)
    • CC students should consider asking their Frontiers of Science faculty member
  • Resume



To participate in the GSP, the selected students will be expected to enroll in both the Spring 2022 and Summer 2022 courses which are described below.

CNNSW3900: Independent Research in Nuclear Nonproliferation. 1-2 points. Spring 2022.

Instructor Ivana Nikolić Hughes, Department of Chemistry.

Following the SCNC UN3001 course, students will gain practical skills and knowledge to prepare for the field work in French Polynesia and the follow up work after the trip. Students will learn how to use film, scientific, and scuba equipment, depending on their specific projects, as well as software skills related to film editing and data analysis. Careful planning for the summer will also take place and students will meet in groups with GSP Directors each week to discuss topics of interest.

CNNSW3900: Independent Research in Nuclear Nonproliferation, 5 points. Summer 2022.

Instructors: Emlyn Hughes, Department of Physics and Ivana Nikolić Hughes, Department of Chemistry.

This course will take place in French Polynesia and Paris. Other activities will take place virtually.

Students will conduct and film interviews with nuclear testing survivors, government representatives, and activists. The goal is to produce a documentary by the end of the summer project, which we would be submitted to film festivals and also be shown on Columbia’s main campus and at Reid Hall.

Students will also produce a proposal for a radiological study of French Polynesia by answering the following questions: (1) What islands and specific areas should (and could) be investigated; and (2) What measurements could be made. To answer the former, students will study the available reports, including the report from the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, four independent radiological surveys conducted from 1982 to 1990, and the IAEA report from 1998. They will also discuss this question with the interviewees in French Polynesia and in Paris. To answer the latter, students will take into account the work that we have done in the Marshall Islands, the scientific equipment that we have in our laboratory, and the possibility of transporting and/or shipping samples from French Polynesia.

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Assess the local resistance against the French nuclear weapons program
  • Record the impact of the program on the people of French Polynesia (i.e. health and education)
  • Investigate the issue of Nuclear Justice for the local population
  • Develop a proposal to perform radiological measurements in the area, similar to what was done in the Marshall Islands

Note: The University reserves the right to withdraw or modify the courses of instruction or to change the instructors as may become necessary.


By participating in this program, you will gain experience in some of the following My Columbia College Core Competencies:

  • Global Awareness
    • Challenge of understanding French Polynesian culture and impact of science on the local population
  • Research
    • Design a study for future radiological measurements
  • Written and Oral Communication
    • Interview local citizens, activists and government officials
  • Creativity and Innovation
    • New forms of communication of the nuclear weapons dangers and their impact particularly in French Polynesia
  • Teamwork and Collaboration
    • Work with other students to produce a comprehensive project


3 weeks in French Polynesia, 3 weeks at home/NYC, 1 week in Paris (~32 hours/week)

May 23 - June 10:

  • Tahiti
  • Hao or Gambier (two subgroups)

June 11 - 30:

  • Home/NYC: daily Zoom meetings, completion of projects

July 1 - 8:

  • Paris: meetings with French activists and officials, presentation at Reid Hall


Grading Policy

Click here for the Columbia summer program grading policies.


  • Upon successful completion of the program, grades are entered into Columbia's online grading system and students can request a Columbia University transcript. Non-Columbia students (including Barnard) can request electronic transcripts online through the Columbia University registrar. No credit is granted to students who do not complete the full program.

Life in Paris & French Polynesia

Information regarding housing, meals, activities and daily living coming soon.


Faculty Directors

Emlyn Hughes is a Professor of Physics at Columbia University. He holds an undergraduate degree from Stanford University and a PhD from Columbia, which he earned working at CERN with Nobel Laureate Jack Steinberger. Prior to returning to Columbia as a Professor in 2006, Hughes was a Professor of Physics at Caltech for 11 years.

Over the years, Hughes’ research interests have spanned areas of atomic, nuclear and particle physics. He was a member of the ATLAS experiment at the LHC in Geneva, Switzerland, where his group was involved in both hardware (pixel detector) and data analysis (studies of jets, photons and the Higgs). Hughes leads a small effort in medical imaging, using polarized noble gases, in collaboration with the Columbia Medical School. He is the Founding Director of the K=1 Project, Center for Nuclear Studies, whose mission is to engage Columbia undergraduates in research, writing, and film about nuclear technologies. Recent projects on nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands have received a great deal of media attention.

Hughes is the winner of the Feynman Teaching Award (Caltech, 1999) and the ASCIT Teaching Award (Caltech, 1997). He was a recipient of the Panofsky Fellowship and the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. Hughes was a Fellow at the Ideas and Imagination Institute at Reid Hall in Paris in 2019-20.

Ivana Nikolić Hughes a Senior Lecturer in Discipline in the Department of Chemistry at Columbia. Nikolić Hughes graduated from Caltech in 1999 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering with Honors, where she completed her Senior Thesis under the guidance of Frances Arnold, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Nikolić Hughes earned her PhD from Stanford University in 2005, working in the Department of Biochemistry as an American Heart Association Fellow. The topic of her PhD was enzymatic catalysis and protein evolution in the alkaline phosphatase superfamily.

Nikolić Hughes serves as the Director of Frontiers of Science, the Columbia science core course. In this capacity, she works with the Frontiers faculty across all ranks on the development of the curriculum for the course and enhancement of teaching and represents the course on various Columbia College and University committees. Nikolić Hughes also serves as the Director of the K=1 Project, Center for Nuclear Studies. In her work leading the K=1 Project, she combines an interest in global issues with her deep commitment to teaching and mentoring undergraduate students with different academic backgrounds on topics at the intersection of science and society.

Nikolić Hughes is a recipient of several research fellowships, the Provost Large Scale Teaching and Learning Award, and the Provost MOOC Award. She is the winner of the Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for 2021.

Learn More

Learn more about the program by watching this recorded information session.

Financial Considerations

Program Fee for Summer 2022 is $9,765*. It covers tuition, housing, course excursions, some group meals, orientation and flights within French Polynesia.

Please see our cost breakdown for detailed information on additional estimated expenses.

*Tuition and fees are subject to approval by The Trustees of Columbia University and may change.


Students who demonstrate financial need may apply for a GSP Scholarship. Funding is generously provided by the Office of the President.

If you are on financial aid, check to see if it can be applied to studying abroad. In general, summer financial aid is not available to Columbia College or Columbia Engineering students, but may be available to School of General Studies students. Non-Columbia students should check with their home schools for funding availability.

For more general information and resources on financing your time abroad, please see the pages below:


If you decide to withdraw from the program once it has already started, please be aware of the financial consequences and the office policies by clicking here.

Resources for Accepted Students

Fact Sheet

Humanities, Social Sciences, STEM
Barnard College, Columbia Undergraduates
Language of Instruction:
Language Requirement:
French Polynesia
Spring, Summer

Dates & Deadlines

Application Deadline: 
Friday, November 5, 2021
Admissions Decision Date: 
Friday, December 10, 2021
Program Dates: 
Monday, May 23, 2022 to Friday, July 8, 2022