Imperatives, Prospects, and Priorities
SUMMARY OF A FORUM
Prepared by Steve Olson
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street NW Washington, DC 20001
NOTICE: The subject of this report is the forum titled Grand Challenges for Engineering: Imperatives, Prospects, and Priorities held during the 2015 annual meeting of the National Academy of Engineering.
Opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this publication are those of the forum participants and not necessarily the views of the National Academy of Engineering.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-43896-4
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-43896-9
Digital Object Identifier: 10.17226/23440
Copies of this report are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street NW, Keck 360, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; www.nap.edu.
For more information about the National Academy of Engineering, visit the NAE home page at www.nae.edu.
Copyright 2016 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Suggested citation: National Academy of Engineering. 2016. Grand Challenges for Engineering: Imperatives, Prospects, and Priorities. Washington: National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23440.
The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln, as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology. Members are elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to research. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to bring the practices of engineering to advising the nation. Members are elected by their peers for extraordinary contributions to engineering. Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr., is president.
The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) was established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to advise the nation on medical and health issues. Members are elected by their peers for distinguished contributions to medicine and health. Dr. Victor J. Dzau is president.
The three Academies work together as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conduct other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. The Academies also encourage education and research, recognize outstanding contributions to knowledge, and increase public understanding in matters of science, engineering, and medicine.
Learn more about the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine at www.national-academies.org.
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Engineering has long gravitated toward great human ambitions: navigation of the oceans, travel to the moon and back, Earth exploration, national security, industrial and agricultural revolutions, communications, and transportation. Some ambitions have been realized, some remain unfulfilled, and some are yet to be determined.
In 2008 a committee of distinguished engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and visionaries set out to identify the most important, tractable engineering system challenges that must be met in this century for human life as we know it to continue on this planet. The committee received thousands of inputs from around the world to determine its list of Grand Challenges for Engineering, and its report was reviewed by more than 50 subject-matter experts, making it among the most reviewed of Academy studies. The 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering are to
Make solar energy economical
Provide energy from fusion
Develop carbon sequestration
Manage the nitrogen cycle
Provide access to clean water
Improve urban infrastructure
Advance health informatics
Engineer better medicines
Reverse-engineer the brain
Prevent nuclear terror
Enhance virtual reality
Advance personalized learning
Engineer the tools of scientific discovery.
The Grand Challenges were not ranked in importance or likelihood of solution, nor was any strategy proposed for solving them. Rather, they were offered as a way to inspire the profession, young people, and the public at large to seek the solutions.
In 2010 a plan was put forth to prepare engineering students to think about careers devoted to addressing the Grand Challenges. Called the NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Program, it was the first specific action taken toward achieving solutions to the challenges on a global scale.
In 2013 the first Global Grand Challenges Summit was held in London, cosponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and the US National Academy of Engineering in their first joint effort. In September 2015 a second Global Grand Challenges Summit was held in Beijing, with more than 800 attendees invited by the three academies. The third Global Grand Challenges Summit, to be hosted by the NAE in the United States in 2017, will be held in conjunction with a new FIRST Robotics international event aimed at engaging the world’s youth on projects tied to one or more of the Grand Challenges.
The Grand Challenges are not targeted to any one country or corporate sector. Rather, they are relevant to everyone in every country. In fact, some of them bear on the very survival of society. If solving these challenges can become an international movement, all will benefit.
For the forum of the October 2015 NAE annual meeting, 7 of the 18 committee members who identified the challenges in 2008 were invited to offer their perspectives on them now:
- Alec Broers has chaired the Select Committee for Science and Technology for the United Kingdom’s House of Lords; before that he was president of the Royal Academy of Engineering (2001–2006). A pioneer in nanotechnology, Broers was the first person to use the scanning electron microscope for fabrication of microminiature structures.
- Farouk El-Baz is a research professor at Boston University and director of the school’s Center for Remote Sensing. He was supervisor of Lunar Science Planning for NASA’s Apollo pro-
gram, and from 1978 to 1981 he was science advisor to President Anwar Sadat of Egypt.
- Wesley Harris is Charles Stark Draper Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT and was previously the associate administrator for aeronautics at NASA. He has contributed to research on unsteady aerodynamics, aeroacoustics, and rarefied gas dynamics.
- Calestous Juma is a professor at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and director of its Science, Technology, and Globalization Project. He is the former executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and founding director of the African Centre for Technology Studies in Nairobi.
- Dean Kamen is founder of the DEKA Research & Development Corporation. His inventions include the wearable infusion pump, the insulin pump for diabetics, an advanced prosthetic arm for the Department of Defense, and the Segway.
- Robert Socolow is codirector of Princeton University’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative, a multidisciplinary investigation of the use and treatment of fossil fuels in a carbon-constrained world. He has been on the Princeton faculty since 1971 as professor of mechanics and aerospace engineering.
- Jackie Ying is founding executive director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore and editor in chief of Nano Today, a journal covering the field of nanoscience and technology. Previously she was a professor of chemical engineering at MIT.
- The moderator was Dan Vergano, a science reporter for BuzzFeed News and adjunct professor at New York University’s Washington, DC, campus, where he teaches journalism.
Now is a good time for reflection on the Grand Challenges for Engineering. Has there been progress on solving them? Do changing global circumstances call for rethinking the challenges? Are we going about them correctly? Hence the theme of this meeting.
C. D. Mote, Jr.
National Academy of Engineering
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