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10 Grand Challenges

Proposals can -- but are not required to -- fall under one of the Future 10 Grand Challenges, and they must satisfy the project proposal guidelines. We are looking for bold approaches with the potential of achieving lasting solutions. 

  • How can we ensure that humanity flourishes in the cities of the future?

The world’s urban population is projected to increase from 3.9 billion to 6.3 billion by 2050, making up 66 percent of the entire global population. Today’s urban areas provide a disparate quality of life and quality of services to their populations, and they inflict a mostly adverse impact on our natural environment. Our challenge is to design and re-engineer our urban environments for the future to provide modern services in ways that allow humans and nature to flourish.

  • How can we engineer matter from atomic to macro scales?

The history of human civilization has always been associated with new materials. However, materials are necessary but not sufficient: They need to be affordably and safely manufactured at scale and integrated into engineered devices and systems to create value for society. We seek to engineer matter – at all scales – for affordable and sustainable energy conversion, storage and use; new ways to improve human health and quality of life; and new approaches to creating affordable, clean and drinkable water.

  • How can we use autonomy to enable future technologies?

In an era of continued industrialization, urbanization and globalization, much higher levels of autonomy in a variety of engineered systems are emerging. But the scientific, technological, legal and ethical knowledge required is not yet available to infuse higher levels of autonomy into many of these systems. Moreover, the societal implications of much higher levels of systems autonomy in our daily lives  such as the potential for significant loss in employment  are not well understood. To address such challenges and achieve effective solutions, it will be necessary to integrate engineering disciplines with expertise throughout the university.

  • How can we use our strength in computation and data analysis to drive innovation?

In recent decades, computation and data analysis (CDA) have become critically important in nearly every field of science and engineering. CDA is also increasingly widespread in medicine, the social sciences, the humanities and beyond. Our challenge is to harness domain expertise throughout the university, especially unique access to large data sets and high-performance computing, to provide opportunities for CDA-based innovation that cross traditional boundaries.

  • How do we achieve effective yet affordable healthcare everywhere?

Health care concerns pose tremendous challenges to humanity, but evolving technological trends present tremendous opportunities to address these challenges. New products and processes are emerging that will change how we deliver health care, and remote monitoring and telemedicine are creating a sea change in the role of the physician. Leveraging ongoing transformations in healthcare data, personalized medicine, and preventative care to provide low-cost, high-quality health care globally will require a new level of interdisciplinary collaboration.

  • How do we create synergy between humans and engineered systems?

Engineering exists to serve humanity, and as advances in information, communication and sensor technologies permeate our lives, the interface between us and our technology is becoming both richer and more complex. But how well do these technologies understand what we want? Our challenge is to manage the complex interface needed for technology to discover, understand and adapt to individual, social and cultural values over time.

  • How do we secure everything?

For all the good the digital revolution is producing, it also is bringing new threats and increasingly sophisticated attacks on everything from personal finances to national elections. We currently lack a deep enough understanding of how to engineer such systems securely, and yet many physical systems, once deployed, will remain in place for decades or longer. We must therefore figure out today how to ensure security into the future and how to rapidly deploy those solutions once they are developed.

  • How do we sustain the exponential increase in information technology performance?

Exponential advances in the performance, integration density and energy efficiency of computing systems fueled the information technology (IT) revolution of the 20th century. However, predicting the fate of IT systems from our current trajectory raises more questions than answers. For example, there is no clear roadmap for how we will manage the exponential growth of such data without consuming excessive amounts of power. Solving challenges such as this will require coordinated breakthroughs from materials to the underlying mathematics of computing.

  • How do we provide humanity with the affordable energy it needs and stabilize the climate?

One of the greatest challenges humanity will face this century is providing the world’s growing population and economy with the clean and affordable energy it needs. In a business-as-usual scenario, there are no solutions to provide this energy while reducing greenhouse emissions so that the global climate can be stabilized. Our challenge is to combine technology, financing, market structure, business models, policies and studies of consumer behavior to accelerate deployment of carbon-free energy generation while dramatically reducing consumption of electricity and transportation fuels.

  • How good can we get at engineering living matter?

A global research community has formed with the goal of making biology easy to engineer. We can now foresee achieving exponential improvements in our capacity to engineer living systems and more powerfully harness life’s intrinsic capacity for organizing atoms. Such capacities could be used to remake our civilization’s supply chains; open new frontiers in medicine; and enable the otherwise impossible, such as exploration on Mars. However, positive outcomes will require that ethical, political, and cultural implications of these new technologies are henceforth considered as an essential research activity alongside the science and engineering.