BOX 2.1

Examples of Other Grand Challenges and Their Uses

In March 2009 the National Academy of Engineering organized a grand challenge summit that defined a list of 14 leading engineering challenges for the 21st century.1 These grand challenges encompassed broad areas of human concern—sustainability, health, vulnerability, and joy of living—and encouraged the technical community to forge a better future by addressing the challenge areas. Although “corrosion” was not specifically mentioned in the resulting report, a case can be made that corrosion does affect each of the above four areas of human concern.2

The high-performance computing (HPC) community has effectively used grand challenge problems to define and focus resources on accomplishing “really difficult” tasks.3 The HPC grand challenges have been in the vanguard of the supercomputing revolution.

Another example is evident in the grand challenges developed by the computational astrophysics community to stimulate interchanges among computational astrophysicists and applied mathematicians. A result has been identification of current barriers to algorithmic efficiency and accuracy, which has motivated a search for creative ways to surmount those barriers, or to decisively demonstrate that certain limitations are unavoidable.4

The National Science and Technology Council sponsored the report Grand Challenges for Disaster Reduction,5 which provided a framework for prioritizing federal investments in science and technology with the goal of reducing the impact of disasters. If met, the resulting six grand challenges targeting America’s capacity to prevent and recover from disasters would enhance the safety and economic well-being of the country.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials adopted the grand strategy approach to identify seven high-level critical problem areas for bridge engineering that, if solved, would lead to significant advances in bridge design and reduced life-cycle costs. The resultant study Grand Challenges: A Strategic Plan for Bridge Engineering6 included a grand challenge, “extending service life,” that highlighted the need for improved corrosion-resistant materials and coatings, and improved corrosion-mitigation methods.

The Department of Energy’s Basic Energy Sciences organization has consistently used the grand challenge approach to identify difficult science problems across a range of basic research areas.7


1 National Academy of Engineering, Grand Challenges for Engineering, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2009.


2 Typically, corrosion research needs are rarely explicitly identified, and when they are mentioned it is within the context of a discrete engineering goal.


3 What are grand challenge problems?, Inside HPC, September 16, 2006, available at


4 See “Grand Challenge Problems in Computational Astrophysics,” available at


5 National Science and Technology Council, Grand Challenges for Disaster Reduction: A Report of the Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction, June 2005, available at


6 Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Highway Subcommittee on Bridges and Structures, Grand Challenges: A Strategic Plan for Bridge Engineering, June 2005, available at


7 See basic research needs reports, available at

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement