Friday, February 15, 2008

Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century

The National Academy of Engineering sponsored a study to identify the Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century. Now their conclusions are revealed on this Web site:

A list of them is included below. At first glance, they seem to be very close to the mark. The only change I can think of after an initial read is to perhaps expand “Prevent Nuclear Terror” to “Prevent Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Terror”. One of the biggest parts of that is the ability to quickly and easily detect chemical and biological agents in the environment.

This list of grand challenges for engineering is such a fascinating topic that it certainly deserves more study, and more posts in the very near future. More later…

The Great Challenges

  1. Make solar energy economical
  2. Provide energy from fusion
  3. Develop carbon sequestration methods
  4. Manage the nitrogen cycle
  5. Provide access to clean water
  6. Restore and improve urban infrastructure
  7. Advance health informatics
  8. Engineer better medicines
  9. Reverse-engineer the brain
  10. Prevent nuclear terror
  11. Secure cyberspace
  12. Enhance virtual reality
  13. Advance personalized learning
  14. Engineer the tools of scientific discovery

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sustainability - the common thread among voter's priorities

We had a great informal discussion among friends recently to discuss our thoughts on the upcoming super Tuesday primaries. We started out by going around the room and letting each person talk about what issues were most important to them. This is a great way to proceed by the way, since talking about issues avoids anyone pushing someone's hot button by insulting their favorite candidate.

People brought up a wide variety of the regular issues, but I noticed one common theme as I listened to them - and that was sustainability. Although they didn't use that word, what people really seemed to consider important was to have a sustainable environment, a sustainable energy policy, a sustainable economy, a sustainable health care system, and a sustainable foreign policy. In each case I listed above, our current system is nowhere near being sustainable. For some cases in particular including our economy and energy policy, things are beginning to fall apart as I write. Sustainability is not a key word on the campaign trail this season, but it's a key aspect of what our priorities really are.

By the way, in the straw poll at the end of the discussion the overwhelming winner was Dennis Kucinich. When we restricted votes to the candidates still in the campaign, the clear winner was Obama.