On February 15, the National Academy of Engineering released its Grand Challenges for Engineering. The report highlights 14 grand challenges within four broad areas – sustainability, health, vulnerability, and joy of living. As the introduction describes:
As the population grows and its needs and desires expand, the problem of sustaining civilization’s continuing advancement, while still improving the quality of life, looms more immediate. Old and new threats to personal and public health demand more effective and more readily available treatments. Vulnerabilities to pandemic diseases, terrorist violence, and natural disasters require serious searches for new methods of protection and prevention. And products and processes that enhance the joy of living remain a top priority of engineering innovation, as they have been since the taming of fire and the invention of the wheel.
The fourteen grand challenges include:
- Make solar energy economical
- Provide energy from fusion
- Develop carbon sequestration methods
- Manage the nitrogen cycle
- Provide access to clean water
- Restore and improve urban infrastructure
- Advance health informatics
- Engineer better medicines
- Reverse-engineer the brain
- Prevent nuclear terror
- Secure cyberspace
- Enhance virtual reality
- Advance personalized learning
- Engineer the tools of scientific discovery
Late last year, the Department of Energy issued a similar report on challenges in basic energy science, Directing Matter and Energy: Five Challenges for Science and the Imagination (pdf). Check out the abstract for a short summary of the report. Their five challenges include:
- How do we control material processes at the level of electrons?
- How do we design and perfect atom- and energy- efficient synthesis of
revolutionary new forms of matter with tailored properties?
- How do remarkable properties of matter emerge from complex correlations of the atomic or electronic constituents and how can we control these properties?
- How can we master energy and information on the nanoscale to create new technologies with capabilities rivaling those of living things?
- How do we characterize and control matter away – especially very far away – from equilibrium?
Both reports provide perspectives and ideas about future research in these fields.