An Interview with Zia Mian

Zia Mian is a physicist who has been at Princeton School of Public and International Affairs since 1997. Throughout his career, Dr. Mian has achieved many accomplishments and titles including, but not limited to, being Co-director of Princeton University's program on Science and Global security (SGS), Co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, Director of the SGS’s Program Project on Peace and Security in South Asia, and is appointed to the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board. To learn more about Dr. Mian, visit the Nuclear Princeton page on Zia or see his bio on Science and Global Security and the School of Public and International Affairs.

Date of Interview: April 14, 2022

Interviewed by: Maria Morales-Salgado and Uzair Malik

Citation: Mian, Zia, “An Interview with Zia Mian” interview by Maria Morales-Salgado and Uzair Malik, Nuclear Princeton Project, Princeton University (2022).



Throughout the interview, Dr. Mian focused on the idea that the entire colonization of indigenous land centuries before was through force and violence. The process of colonization is always violent. Princeton is nothing special. We are still understanding the implications of our history as an institution, which existed before the United States became a republic. So it is not entirely possible for Princeton to take back or account for all the actions and impacts they have made. Some stories will never be told because many have passed. So what can we do? This is where we increase dialogue and help Princeton recognize its past. The Nuclear Princeton organization is just one of the first steps the institution is taking to accept its responsibility when it comes to the negative impacts they have made on indigenous communities from occupying the Lenne-Lenape land to carrying out the Manhattan Project. While recognizing our past, we must now dwell on it too. We must look forward to seeing how we can improve and help the current situations in our surrounding communities too.


Time Stamps:


Overview of the interview


We want to explore the history of the Science and Global Security Program, and the impact they have made in spreading awareness around Princeton’s role in nuclear physics and the Manhattan Project. What got you interested in nuclear arms control research and your position at Science and Global Security? 


With your involvement in the Science & Global Security (SGS) along with the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), did you consider the impacts of nuclear development on indigenous groups?


What responsibility do organizations such Princeton, the SGS, or larger have  in providing support for communities that were affected. In our course, FRS 152–Nuclear Princeton, we study how indigenous communities were affected by uranium mining and land being taken away for nuclear science. With all of these impacts, what responsibility does Princeton have and can you elaborate on how the SGS is providing information about the impact nuclear science research has had on the indigenous communities. 


Do you think there is a correlation between denuclearization and decolonization?


What research is going into revealing the impact nuclear weaponry and production has had on communities such as the indigenous community? How do you see the future of the SGS and IPFM going?


What message would you share with the new generation of students interested in nuclear science? Is there any particular project you would like Nuclear Princeton to pursue? 


Quote Highlights:

  • “They teach you the physics of how the universe works, and atoms, electrons, nuclei, and so on but they don’t necessarily have courses on nuclear weapons, or missiles or what are the effects of nuclear war.”

  • On the SGS: “These kinds of programs are very important for creating spaces for people to think about how they can do this work of combining scholarship, teaching, and engagement with real world issues in the best way they can.” 

  • “Nuclear weapons are not just physical objects… but they are involved in institutions and ideas and societies and the world and so they have an impact on all of them.”

  • (About fissile material) "We are trying to focus on how much is in the world? And who made it? And where is it? What are they doing with it? And what could be done with it to try and get rid of it?”

  • “Even if you know that this is the full scale of the problem, you can’t do it all. What you can do is that there are ways of thinking about some parts of the problem that you can contribute to.”

  • “Part of the compromise of scholarship is that you have to make sure that all the things you learn, you can’t write into one paper. Otherwise every paper would be an encyclopedia. So you have have a this is a beginning, this is the middle, and this is the end. And you just have to know how inadequate it is given all the things that are still not covered in what you say, in what you write, and what you understand. And be open to those things still being there. Be respectful of that fact.”


SGS’s Connection with Indigeneity

To view past works by SGS, visit:

As seen from the archives, there are not many works focused on the effects of nuclear science on indigenous groups. One of the first steps SGS is taking to help increase awareness is funding the Nuclear Princeton program. Other ways SGS could improve is by hiring faculty specialized in indigenous groups and continuing to allocate funding to programs like Nuclear Princeton.