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Summer 2007 Vol. 7 No. 2



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Grand Challenges for Engineering

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From urban centers to the remotest corners of Earth, and the depths of the oceans to the far reaches of space, humans have sought to transcend barriers and create opportunities to improve life in our part of the universe. Engineering, science, and technology have truly shaped our world.

"My own hope is that the engineering community will devote part of its effort to devise and apply technological advances to meet some of the rudimentary needs of water, fuel, housing, health, and information."
-- Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president
"The generation and use of energy has such a huge impact on the economy, politics, security, and the environment that it is our Grand Challenge."
-- Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios
"I believe that the greatest scientific, technological, and societal challenge of the 21st century will be to meet the world's growing energy needs while protecting Earth's delicate and increasingly threatened climate and ecological balances."
-- Frances Arnold, California Institute of Technology
"One of the most outstanding challenges for engineers in the next century will be the complete treatment of effluent from a plant."
-- Mahzarul Islam, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology
"I would suggest that we spend our immediate energy attempting to understand and develop solutions for the pathogenic threats we face, such as viruses, parasites, prions, etc…"
-- Jack Apple, Chandler, Ariz.

A few years ago, the National Academy of Engineering published A Century of Innovation, a coffee-table book that highlighted 20 great engineering achievements in the last century that have improved the quality of life -- most of which we now take for granted. Technology has made it possible for us to provide an abundant supply of food and safe drinking water for much of the world. We rely on electricity for many of our daily activities, and we can travel the globe with relative ease. Goods and services can be delivered wherever they are needed. Growing computer and communications technologies are opening up vast stores of knowledge and entertainment.

As remarkable as these engineering achievements were, great challenges and opportunities still lie ahead. The NAE has enlisted a blue-ribbon committee to develop a technological road map that charts a path to the future and serves as a basis for public analysis and debate. The committee is chaired by William J. Perry, University Professor of Engineering at Stanford University and former U.S. secretary of defense. The project is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

The Grand Challenges for Engineering committee will develop a list of world challenges that can be addressed, at least in part, by engineering. They are drawing upon many sources of expertise and ideas from the general public.

Anyone can participate in the discussion or submit ideas at the Grand Challenges Web site -- <www.engineeringchallenges.org> -- where committee member profiles are also available. In addition, you will find exclusive essays from a former U.S. president and a presidential candidate, among others.

The committee will identify areas of engineering research and innovation with the potential to address aspects of each challenge, suggest avenues of exploration, and explain it all in a way that will be easily understood by the general public. The results of the committee's deliberations will be revealed in late 2007.   -- Randy Atkins



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Copyright 2007 by the National Academy of Sciences