Global Navigation Element.

Summer 2013 Vol. 13 Number 1

Table of Contents

Bookmark and Share


Global Grand Challenges Summit

Participants at the Global Grand Challenges Summit held in London, March 2013, photo courtesy Royal Academy of Engineering

The first Global Grand Challenges Summit (GGCS) -- a two-day event co-hosted by the National Academy of Engineering and the engineering academies of the United Kingdom and China -- took place last March in London, where more than 400 people participated with the purpose of identifying opportunities for global cooperation on engineering innovation and education to address common technological goals.

Also in attendance were 60 college students from around the globe who were invited to attend Student Day just before the GGCS. The students were asked to choose from six of the NAE's Grand Challenges for Engineering and develop a pitch for how to address it. Each team presented its proposal before a panel of expert judges including Microsoft's Tony Hey and Margaret Anne Craig from Clyde Biosciences. The winner, TeleHealth Express, was showcased at the summit, and team's presentation on streamlining health care was well-received. I had the chance to sit in during Student Day and observe the young engineers in their working groups. It was amazing that these students, most of whom had just met for the first time, could come up with realistic ideas for helping address some of the world's greatest challenges within a few short hours. Not only that, they prepared well-conceived, creative business models for bringing their ideas to fruition.

Breakout discussion including Craig Venter, Calestous Juma, Chris Wise, and others, photo courtesy Royal Academy of Engineering

The panel sessions at the summit itself focused on six key themes: sustainability, health, education, technology and growth, enriching life, and resilience. Summit speakers included Caltech's Frances Arnold, Imperial College professor Ara Darzi, former DARPA head and present Google/Motorola exec Regina Dugan, Stanford University president John Hennessy, prolific inventor Dean Kamen, and economist Jeffrey Sachs, among others. While all of the speakers brought different expertise to the table, it was evident that each was intent on making improvements to the world's future in a drastic way. Once I got past being star-struck, I was blown away by the groundbreaking and unique research these people were doing. For example, fashion and science innovator Helen Storey talked about clothing she's helping to design that purifies air, while Robert Matheson explained how the NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering are being incorporated into curriculum at his school, the new Wake North Carolina State University STEM Early College High School, and Chief Creative Officer of Applied Minds Bran Ferren told of the sobering implications of failing to secure cyberspace.

Short film competition winners Paul Clarkson and Katie Speights, photo courtesy Royal Academy of Engineering Jo da Silva, photo courtesy Royal Academy of Engineering, photo courtesy Royal Academy of Engineering

Additional highlights included plenary addresses from genome pioneer J. Craig Venter and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, presentation of the Global Grand Challenges Video Contest winners by NASA's and announcement of the new Vest Scholarships, established in honor of NAE President CharlCharles Elachi and entertainer, es M. Vest to encourage international student collaboration on the NAE Grand Challenges. A new joint project between the U.S. National Science Foundation and the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to fund trans-Atlantic research with the goal of providing all people with access to clean water was also inspired by the summit.

The summit was full of exciting moments, especially with provocative statements by the speakers. Venter stated that with the help of synthetically engineered molecules "Mars will be colonized within two decades," and Gates, who talked about the importance of improving the quality of life in impoverished countries, argued that "more money is invested into researching male baldness than helping the developing world." A popular and reoccurring motto during the event was "Science needs to be sexier"; advocated that if society gives engineers the attention they deserve and treats them like today's pop and athletic stars, more children will be inspired to enter the field.

The next Global Grand Challenges Summit is set to take place in Beijing, China, in 2015.

-- Nicole Flores, program associate for public relations at NAE

Previous Table of Contents Next

Copyright 2013 by the National Academy of Sciences