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Discovering Nuclear Studies Through the Marshall Islands

It’s been really special to be involved in such a cool project that not many people get the opportunity to work on. —Danielle Crosswell CC’17

A project that Danielle Crosswell CC’17 found through Frontiers of Science took her from College Walk all the way to the the Marshall Islands, a sprawling string of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Crosswell, a computer science major with a concentration in statistics, stumbled into the Center of Nuclear Studies’s K=1 Project, which she was invited to join after taking the Core Curriculum’s Frontiers of Science with Emlyn Hughes, professor of physics, during the fall semester of her first year. She described it as one of the most memorable experiences during her time on campus.

“It was complete luck,” she said. “He just brought up the project to me and it sounded cool.”

Since then, Crosswell has met former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Energy Secretary Steven Chu through her involvement in the project. She has also made a documentary about the Marshall Islands, an island country in the Pacific Ocean, near the equator, where the U.S. did a significant amount of nuclear testing during the 1940s-50s,

In August 2014, the summer after her sophomore year, Crosswell traveled to Majuro, an atoll in the Marshall Islands, to interview government officials about the nuclear testing. She went back in August 2015, traveling on a boat to Enewetak, Rongelap and Bikini atolls to study background radiation levels. While the other students she traveled with rotated in and out of the project, she remained connected throughout her time on campus.

Crosswell is making her third trip to the islands just after Commencement, and will be there for a month with seven other Columbia students, all of whom have been trained in scuba diving so they can take sediment samples. While Crosswell said her travels and research have taught her a lot about nuclear issues, she also grew to care for the Marshallese. “It changed from caring about the history of the Marshallese people to being interested in potentially helping them,” she said.

As her involvement in the K=1 Project draws to an end after this summer, Crosswell will switch gears and start a data analytics job at Archetype Solutions Group, a management consulting firm in Philadelphia.

In Her Own Words

“Over the past year, I’ve been considered the [K=1 Project’s] team captain, so I got a lot of experience managing a large project and a lot of people. There are a ton of moving parts – we’re about to get on a boat in the middle of uninhabited islands, and if we forget to bring anything, there’s no CVS we can go to. So it’s about thinking of every detail. It’s a really unique experience, and hopefully the work that we’re doing actually affects the lives of people. It’s been really special to be involved in such a cool project that not many people get the opportunity to work on. I think this is a unique thing to Columbia. They have the resources to send me on a trip like this. I remember talking to my mom about this freshman year – she said I would get the same education probably somewhere else, but I would not have the same opportunities.” —Danielle Crosswell CC’17


Corinne Lestch SOA’18 is a freelance writer based in New York City. She has worked for the New York Daily News, where she received a Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of New York, and is currently getting her M.F.A. in creative writing at Columbia's School of the Arts. She received a B.S. in journalism from Northwestern University in 2010.

Last updated Monday May 22, 2017

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