Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Engineering Challenges of the 21st Century

About a year ago the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) asked 18 of the world’s finest minds to assemble a list of the 14 Grand Engineering Challenges of the 21st Century. In essence, a list of technical hills that engineers will likely have to climb at some point in their careers.

The list covers a lot of ground. It’s obvious that Michigan Engineering has been thinking about a number of these items.

• Making solar energy affordable: Convert and store the power of sunshine at a cost that competes with the cost of fossil fuels.
• Providing energy from fusion: Sustain a controlled fusion reaction to generate commercial power.
• Developing methods for carbon sequestration: Capture the carbon dioxide generated from the burning of fossil-fuels, then confine that excess carbon underground.
• Managing the nitrogen cycle: Develop ways to counteract the pollution created by fertilizer, internal combustion and other activities.
• Providing access to clean water: Deliver water for personal use and irrigation in areas of the world where it’s in short supplu.
• Restoring and improving urban infrastructure: Heal the world’s aging infrastructure, and do it in an ecologically sound manner.
• Advancing health informatics: Identify the factors that underlie wellness and illness, and use that information to deliver personalized medicine for all.
• Engineering better medicines: Create treatments for long-standing and newly-emerging diseases.
• Reverse-engineering the brain: Unravel the mysteries of brain function and, in the process, cure disease and advance the field of artificial intelligence.
• Preventing nuclear terror: The industrialized world faces threats from those who have access to nuclear materials and are intent on using them.
• Securing cyberspace: Protect the world’s information infrastructure – stop identity theft, viruses and other threats – but don’t interrupt the flow of data?
• Enhancing virtual reality: Manage computer technology to create imaginative environments for education and entertainment.
• Advancing personalized learning: Transform education – use computer technology to personalize learning and make it irresistible.
• Engineering the tools for scientific discovery: Improve the means of technological exploration.

Take a look at the NAE’s final report (PDF). Then decide if you can identify some challenges that haven’t been mentioned.