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NAE Grand Challenges

Throughout human history, engineering has driven the advancement of civilization. For all of the advances, however, the 21st century poses challenges just as formidable as those from past millennia.

In 2008, the National Academy of Engineering identified 14 Grand Challenges for engineering in the 21st century. These challenges represent each of the broad realms of human concern–sustainability, health, vulnerability, joy of living.

During the Grand Challenges, 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.

The Grand Challenge Scholars Program is the companion program for engineering schools that have accepted the challenge of designing combined curricular and extracurricular programs to prepare students to be the generation that solves the grand challenges facing society. In 2009, the college established an approved Grand Challenge Scholars Program becoming one of only 50 engineering schools in the country to have this prestigious program.

Advanced Personal Learning

A growing appreciation of individual preferences and aptitudes has led toward more “personalized learning,” in which instruction is tailored to a student’s individual needs. Given the diversity of individual preferences, and the complexity of each human brain, developing teaching methods that optimize learning will require engineering solutions of the future.

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Make Solar Energy Economical

Currently, solar energy provides less than 1 percent of the world’s total energy, but it has the potential to provide much, much more.

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Enhance Virtual Reality

Within many specialized fields, from psychiatry to education, virtual reality is becoming a powerful new tool for training practitioners and treating patients, in addition to its growing use in various forms of entertainment.

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Reverse-Engineer the Brain

A lot of research has been focused on creating thinking machines—computers capable of emulating human intelligence— however, reverse-engineering the brain could have multiple impacts that go far beyond artificial intelligence and will promise great advances in health care, manufacturing, and communication.

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Engineer Better Medicines

Engineering can enable the development of new systems to use genetic information, sense small changes in the body, assess new drugs, and deliver vaccines to provide health care directly tailored to each person.

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Advance Health Informatics

As computers have become available for all aspects of human endeavors, there is now a consensus that a systematic approach to health informatics – the acquisition, management, and use of information in health – can greatly enhance the quality and efficiency of medical care and the response to widespread public health emergencies.

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Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure

Infrastructure is the combination of fundamental systems that support a community, region, or country. Society faces the formidable challenge of modernizing the fundamental structures that will support our civilization in centuries ahead.

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Secure Cyberspace

Computer systems are involved in the management of almost all areas of our lives; from electronic communications, and data systems, to controlling traffic lights to routing airplanes. It is clear that engineering needs to develop innovations for addressing a long list of cybersecurity priorities.

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Provide Access to Clean Water

The world’s water supplies are facing new threats; affordable, advanced technologies could make a difference for millions of people around the world.

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Provide Energy from Fusion

Human-engineered fusion has been demonstrated on a small scale. The challenge is to scale up the process to commercial proportions, in an efficient, economical, and environmentally benign way.

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Prevent Nuclear Terror

The need for technologies to prevent and respond to a nuclear attack is growing.

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Manage the Nitrogen Cycle

Engineers can help restore balance to the nitrogen cycle with better fertilization technologies and by capturing and recycling waste.

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Develop Carbon Sequestration Methods

Engineers are working on ways to capture and store excess carbon dioxide to prevent global warming.

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Engineer the Tools of Scientific Discovery

In the century ahead, engineers will continue to be partners with scientists in the great quest for understanding many unanswered questions of nature.

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