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Taking on the world’s biggest tech challenges

March 06, 2010

Leading futurists and technologists have worked with the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) to identify “Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century,” focusing on technological breakthroughs needed to build sustainable societies and improve the quality of life in a growing and increasingly complex world.

To help launch a call to action toward achieving these goals, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University is organizing one of five regional NAE Grand Challenge Summits.

On April 8 and 9 at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, experts will explore critical needs to develop new medicines and biomedical technologies, make solar energy economical, find better ways to manage and recycle the increasing amount of waste materials produced by growing nations, and transform education to prepare the next generations for facing these and other challenges.

Those issues are among the NAE’s 14 Grand Challenges that also include ensuring access to clean water around the world, preventing nuclear terror, reducing vulnerability to natural disasters, improving health-care information systems and making cyberspace more secure, among others. 

“The past century has seen technological advancements that have improved life for many on the planet,” says ASU President Michael M. Crow. “But as remarkable as these achievements have been, we are challenged to now find even better and more sustainable solutions to our problems and to extend opportunities to more people to better their lives.”

Deirdre Meldrum, dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, says progress depends on fostering collaborations of engineers with scientists, policy makers, leaders in industry, economics, law, technology entrepreneurship, education, sociology and the humanities.

“All of that starts with a call for public awareness about how important it is for us to overcome these challenges, and giving the public a voice in decision-making,” she says. “That’s what we hope to begin with this summit.”

Featured speakers will be:

• Leland Hartwell, Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine, and President and Director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

• Kristina M. Johnson, Undersecretary of Energy, U.S. Department of Energy

• Pamela Matson, Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth Sciences, Stanford University

• James Duderstadt, President Emeritus and University Professor of Science and Engineering, University of Michigan

For more information, see:

NAE Summit Series

The first of the NAE’s regional summits was March3-5 in North Carolina, organized by Duke University and North Carolina State University.

Following the Phoenix Summit will be a Chicago Summit, April 21 and 22, organized by the Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

A Boston Summit will be April 21, organized by Wellesley and Babson colleges and the Olin College of Engineering. The University of Washington is organizing a Seattle Summit on May 2 and 3.

A National Summit will be Oct. 6 and 7 in Los Angeles, organized by the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering, Duke University and Olin College of Engineering.

Career Fair and Design Competition

The Phoenix Summit will include a Career Fair April 8, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., providing a venue for networking and job recruitment in technology, engineering and science fields.

Employers can meet with graduate and undergraduate students, as well as experienced entry-level professionals, from Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.

Each regional Grand Challenge Summit Series site is also conducting a student design competition with the theme “Improving Human Wellbeing in the Developing World.”

Students will exhibit posters related to any of the 14 NAE Grand Challenges. The posters will describe proposals for practical and affordable technology, a process or a product that could be used to address challenges in nutrition, agriculture, diagnostics, drug delivery, disease vector control, urban design, solar energy, water access, water treatment and other needs in the developing world.

There will be cash prizes for projects winning the top three awards. 

First- place poster winners from each of the regional competition sites will be invited to submit their concepts for entry at the national competition at the NAE’s National Grand Challenge Summit in Los Angeles, in the fall.