In the 20th century, engineers accomplished amazing feats. Many of these accomplishments are used on a daily basis, for example the internet, telephone, television, highways, air conditioning and many other luxuries in life. These engineering successes have made global communication easier, bringing global society closer. Engineers have helped in the exploration of outer space and advancement of health technologies. However, the 21st century poses its own challenges for engineers.

The Earth’s resources are limited. Yet people still need energy and clean water. As human populations expand, desires and needs will grow, and quality of life must improve as well. Society’s vulnerability to pandemic disease, bioterrorism, and natural disasters remains ever constant and require vigilance in a search for protection and prevention.

To stimulate engineers to rise to 21st century challenges, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) created fourteen Grand Challenges that fall into four categories that address human concerns: sustainability, health, vulnerability, and joy of living. Using scientific finds, rules of reasoning, aesthetics, and creativity, engineers are inspired to help shape a better future.

The Grand Challenges:
1. Make Solar Energy Economical
-The sun is a powerful source of energy, providing more than 10,000 times the amount of commercial energy consumed by humans on the planet. (Image to right: Solar panels absorbing energy from the sun (1).)
2. Provide Energy From Fusion
-Turning fusion to large scale production to produce efficient, economically, and environmentally friendly energy.
3. Develop Carbon Sequestration Methods
-Finding ways to remove the heat-trapping gas, carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere to prevent global warming.
4. Manage the Nitrogen Cycle:
-With better fertilization technology and by capturing and recycling waste, the nitrogen cycle can be restored.
5. Provide Access to Clean Water
-Accessible and affordable clean water is becoming harder to come by. Making an indispensible resource available to all is a must.

6.Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure
-Advanced materials and good designs can make a world of difference with transportations, energy, water, waste systems, and urban environments. (Image to left: Bridges are a commonly used form of infrastructure. (1).)
7. Advance Health Informatics
-Improving the health system will not only improve individual treatment, but help in prevention of pandemics and terrorist attacks.
8. Engineer Better Medicines
-By using genes and understanding changes in the body, new drugs and vaccine delivery systems can be assessed.
9. Reverse-Engineer the Brain
-Understanding the brain brings a connection between neuroscience and technology in attempts to make computers better at emulating human intelligence.
10. Prevent Nuclear Terror
-Developing ways to prevent and protect against nuclear attack.
11. Secure Cyberspace
-Beyond identity theft: national security, banking, and physical infrastructures remain at risk with an unsecured world wide web.
12. Enhance Virtual Reality
-Training, treatment, and communication can all be furthered with advanced virtual reality.
13. Advance Personalized Learning
-Since learning is unique to every individual, instruction can be individualized to make learning more interesting.
14. Engineer the Tools of Scientific Discovery
-As scientific inquiry continues to move forward, scientists will continue to work side by side with engineers in their exploration of the natural world(1)(Image to right: Scientists and engineers work together to better understand the natural world(2).).

Unlike enhancing virtual reality, other grand challenges would do more than just better the livelihoods of the few who would be able to partake in the engineering advancement. Economically available solar energy and affordable clean water are two improvements that would better global society. Additionally, securing cyber space would make communications on a global scale more effective, bringing the world closer and making it more connected.

1. "The Grand Challeneges." Introduction to the Grand Challenges. 15 Feb. 2008. National Academy of Engineering. 8 Oct. 2008 .
2. National Center for Computational Sciences

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Prof G said...

Are these engineering challenges ordered according to importance?

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