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Grand Challenges for Engineering

The National Academy of Engineering has identified 14 Grand Challenges facing humanity. Jacobs School faculty are engineering solutions to these challenges.

1. Economical Solar Energy

1. Economical Solar Energy

Sunlight that strikes Earth provides 10,000 times more energy than that produced commercially; more efficient solar energy is vital for long-term energy sustainability.

Nanowires May Boost Solar Cell Efficiency

2. Urban Infrastructure

2. Urban Infrastructure

Novel construction materials and construction methods that are designed for sustainability and environmental and energy-use considerations will be part of the solution to America's aging and failing infrastructure.

Bridge Safety: Health Updates on Demand
What's Shaking? Precast Concrete

3. Engineer Better Medicines

3. Engineer Better Medicines

Doctors will soon be able to diagnose and treat people based on their individual genetic differences; however, an effective system of "personalized medicine" will be developed collaboratively by geneticists, clinical specialists, and engineers.

Hypertension-Diabetes Link
Drug Discovery Bottleneck Eliminated
Transportation Critical to Cells

4. Engineer the Tools of Scientific Discovery

4. Engineer the Tools of Scientific Discovery

Long-distance human space flight and cheaper, more powerful atom smashers are tools that engineers are creating to understand nature's unanswered questions. While searching for new ways to image the body and explore the cosmos, engineers will also generate enterprises that enhance the joy of living.

Stem Cell Grant Boosts Muscle Research
Visualizing Molecular Biology
Phased Array on Display
Slow Light, Faster Computers

5. Clean Water

5. Clean Water

Lack of clean water is responsible for more deaths in the world than war. Water conservation, high-tech irrigation strategies, desalination for increasing drinking water supplies, and large-scale recycling of wastewater and sewage are pieces of the clean-water-for-all puzzle that require engineering expertise and creativity.

How Much Irrigation Water?

6. Advance Personalized Learning

6. Advance Personalized Learning

Ask astute first-grade teachers whether phonics or wholeword recognition is the best way to teach reading and many will say, "It depends on the kid." Similarly, "personalized learning" in many realms of teaching will be a major challenge for future software engineers.

Face as Remote Control

7. Energy from Fusion

7. Energy from Fusion

We need to scale up successful fusion processes to produce energy in an efficient, economical, and environmentally benign way.

Fusion: In Search of an Energy Solution

8. Enhance Virtual Reality

8. Enhance Virtual Reality

A Hollywood virtual universe was known as "The Matrix," but virtual reality also is becoming a powerful tool for training medical practitioners, treating patients, and even creating cars and airplanes "virtually" to test design principles, ergonomics, safety and more.

Virtual Fog and Smoke Machine

9. Reverse-Engineer the Brain

9. Reverse-Engineer the Brain

Thinking machines play chess, but general-purpose artificial intelligence has remained elusive. However, if we learn how to reverse-engineer the brain, we may be able to produce computers better able to emulate human intelligence.

Databasing the Brain

10. Secure Cyberspace

10. Secure Cyberspace

Personal privacy and national security depend on protecting the information-sharing electronic web known as cyberspace.

Securing Cyberspace with Cryptography

11. Advance Health Informatics

11. Advance Health Informatics

Authorized medical data about people can be stored securely within a network designed to help deliver quick and efficient care, and improved quality of care will involve gathering medical data with wearable devices in the form of tiny electronic sensors embedded in clothing and within the body.

Improving Health Information Systems

12. Carbon Sequestration

12. Carbon Sequestration

Since we can't currently eliminate the burning of nonrenewable carbon fuels, we need to replace smokestacks with carbon-capturing technologies.

Carbon Neutral Biofuels
Engineering Flower Power

13. Prevent Nuclear Terror

13. Prevent Nuclear Terror

In addition to electric power, more than 1,000 nuclear fission reactors worldwide produce plutonium, which could be extracted for use in weapons. Engineers are needed to secure plutonium, detect it, render devices with it harmless, respond, clean up, communicate after an explosion, and determine who did it.

Nuclear Nonproliferation

14. Manage the Nitrogen Cycle

14. Manage the Nitrogen Cycle

Not as catchy as global warming, but human-induced changes in the global nitrogen cycle pose engineering challenges as critical as coping with the environmental consequences of burning fossil fuels for energy.

Tracking Nitrogen's Pluses and Minuses