Founded in 2022 at the University of Chicago, the Existential Risk Laboratory (XLab) is an interdisciplinary research organization dedicated to the analysis and mitigation of risks that threaten human civilization’s long-term survival. We focus on critically under-addressed areas: AI safety, biorisk, nuclear security, and extreme climate change, recognizing the urgent need for more expertise and innovative thinking in these fields. Since these issues don’t fit neatly into pre-existing academic silos, XLab was created to serve as a coordinating locus for work on existential and global catastrophic risk on the UChicago campus, bringing together scholars from across the academy. We support direct research and provide a venue for students to build expertise in our focus areas.
The legacy of existential risk work at the University of Chicago dates back to Enrico Fermi and the world’s first nuclear chain reaction under the historic Stagg Field. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists—the creator of the well-known Doomsday Clock—was originally founded in 1945 by UChicago scientists from the Manhattan Project who were concerned about the emerging dangers. XLab was founded in the same spirit of concern and commitment to mitigating the great threats of our time.
(1) Scientists from the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory, a Manhattan Project Site. Photo courtesy of Special Collections Research Center at the University of Chicago. (2) Worker standing next to an early experimental nuclear reactor (PILE-1) built here at the University of Chicago. Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration. (3) Photo of Henry Moore’s sculpture “Nuclear Energy” on campus where the first sustained nuclear reaction occurred in 1942. Photo by Tom Rossiter. (4) 2023 Doomsday Clock Announcement. Photo by Jamie Christiani/Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
MEET OUR TEAM
Daniel Holz is the founding director of XLab. A professor at the University of Chicago in the Departments of Physics, Astronomy & Astrophysics, the Enrico Fermi Institute, and the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, Holz is a member of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) collaboration and researches black holes, gravitational waves, and cosmology. He has received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, a Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, and as a member of LIGO received the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics and the Gruber Prize. He was selected as a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and is an APS Fellow. Holz is Chair of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and in this role helps set the time of the Doomsday Clock.
Zachary Rudolph is the founding deputy director and program coordinator of XLab. He holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Chicago Harris School where he focused on AI governance, security studies, and management. He also holds a BA in Mathematics and Philosophy from Amherst College where he founded a One for the World chapter and organized events on impactful careers.
Oksana Vickers is a fourth year undergraduate at the University of Chicago studying Political Science and Russian/Eastern European Studies. Her work focuses on tactical nuclear weapons and their relevance to modern strategic planning and 21st century security. She initially joined the XLab team as a summer research fellow in 2023, and has now joined the team for the academic year.
Student Researcher and Team Lead
Isabella Duan is an MA candidate in Computational Social Science at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on designing impact-representative evaluations to inform policy discussions on AI risks.
FACULTY ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Professor of Ecology and Evolution; Director, Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation
Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History, South Asian Languages and Civilizations and the College
Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, the College, and the Harris School; Director, Becker Friedman Institute and EPIC
Professor, Department of Cinema and Media Studies, English Language and Literature, the College, and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Program Director, Media Arts and Design Major
John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor at the Committee on Social Thought and in the Department of Philosophy
William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor, Departments of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Physics, Enrico Fermi Institute, and the College; previous: Director, Argonne National Laboratory; founding Co-director, Energy Policy Institute
Walter J. Blum Professor of Law; Senior Fellow, the Computation Institute of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory
Professor of Statistics and Computer Science; Director of AI, Data Science Institute; Faculty Lead, Schmidt AI+Science Postdoctoral Fellowship
Robert C. McCormack Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance, Booth School of Business; Director, George J. Stigler Center