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Grand Challenges for Engineering

In the century just ended, engineering recorded its grandest accomplishments. The widespread development and distribution of electricity and clean water, automobiles and airplanes, radio and television, spacecraft and lasers, antibiotics and medical imaging, and computers and the Internet are just some of the highlights from a century in which engineering revolutionized and improved virtually every aspect of human life. Find out more about the great engineering achievements of the 20th century from a separate NAE Web site:

For all of these advances, though, the century ahead poses challenges as formidable as any from millennia past. As the population grows and its needs and desires expand, the problem of sustaining civilization’s continuing advancement, while still improving the quality of life, looms more immediate. Old and new threats to personal and public health demand more effective and more readily available treatments. Vulnerabilities to pandemic diseases, terrorist violence, and natural disasters require serious searches for new methods of protection and prevention. And products and processes that enhance the joy of living remain a top priority of engineering innovation, as they have been since the taming of fire and the invention of the wheel.

In each of these broad realms of human concern—sustainability, health, vulnerability, and joy of living —specific grand challenges await engineering solutions. The world’s cadre of engineers will seek ways to put knowledge into practice to meet these grand challenges. Applying the rules of reason, the findings of science, the aesthetics of art, and the spark of creative imagination, engineers will continue the tradition of forging a better future.

Introduction to The Grand Challenges for Engineering, Grand Challenges for Engineering Web site, National Academy of Engineering (2008).

must invest in research, encourage innovation, and grow a strong, talented, and innovative science and technology workforce.1

This call to action in Gathering Storm resonated strongly in both national political parties and in the executive and legislative branches of government, resulting in the American Competitiveness Initiative, the Academic Competitiveness Council, the America COMPETES Act, and spending provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In passing the America COMPETES Act in the summer of 2007, Congress laid the groundwork for the implementation of many of the recommendations from Gathering Storm.2 In passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act


IOM, NAS, and NAE. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.


America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act, P. L. No. 110-69.

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