Grand Challenges for Engineering  -  Apr 24, 2014

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The National Academy of Engineering (NAE), at the request of the National Science Foundation, convened a committee of leading technical thinkers to create a list of the grand challenges and opportunities for engineering facing those born at the dawn of this new century. 

Much input was considered, ranging from experts in science or engineering to the broader general public.  Many ideas were shared, in raw form, on this website.  The committee's final conclusions were released on this website on Feb. 15, 2008, and were presented at a public event at the NAE in October 2008.

This project is sponsored by a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation, Award # ENG-0632026.  Additional Public Infomation

For more information, please contact Randy Atkins, Project Director, at

Every comment submitted to this fully moderated discussion has to be reviewed by an moderator before it is published on the site. Please keep your contributions civil, tasteful, and relevant. All comments must comply with our terms of use.

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Trevor, England


I would like to research into renewable energies, especially solar panel design using advanced materials.I am also interested in nanotechnology and how it can be used to enhance future product.I am very much interested in creating stuff that would help people in the developing world overcome their day to day difficulties :lighting, fuel to cook and efficient use of water. I feel that if engineers collaborate, we could make a great difference in this world.

Rick Fenton, Ontario, Canada


I may have missed the answer, but are the competitions open to non-US reseaarchers? Thanks.

michael stegall, USA


i always wondered if there was a material that could help the process. currently the plasma is made to make a toroidal stream but isnt the sun just a spinning sphere? the pressure and gravity are so much that instead of exploding outwards it collapses in. maybe a man-made diamagnetic material could be placed inside the magnetic field. the material itself would contain the even smaller reaction material. just a idea i had randomly

Jerrold Thacker, Dallas, TX


I have a strong interest in Astronomy and Cosmology, and have some very intriguing ideas, but this site does not seem to address these subjects.

Milan, USA, VA


The idea about this whole project is something our society really needs as an initiation phase of a bigger project:"Improve Life". Being an engineer and innovator myself, I learned that no project can live on its own, disconnected from the reality of our existence; investment and politics. In other words, as much as it is important to define and scope the major engineering challenges, it is equally important not to forget that solutions will require some channels and connections with those who make decisions (governments, politicians, investors) to ensure "stakeholders involvement". Even though it is not an engineering category and may sound disconnected from the premise of this project, I believe one of the challenges should be Making Decision Making Powers (politicians and governments) aware of challenges and timelines. In other words, educate them, bring them one step closer to our scientific and engineering perception of the world and help them help us - by making right choices and creating an environment where major decisions will be made on facts and not only on lobbying and political agendas (like the non-unrealistic cost of oil/petrol products, subsidized to the max, while renewable energy solutions must fight against them in the open market, which is as if you have to box against Mike Tyson with one of your hands tied up to your back).

Fransisca, Indonesia


Made something to can made revolutioner to develop this problem, so can result something to come new something.

Daniel, Romania


Can a non-US researcher to win your challanges? Please respond on e-mail.

Paul Van Herck, Antwerp


I have personally have a lot of these thoughts geannaliseerd. if we follow the wise counsel, let herself come true to us. but we can assume what people know. and therefore I support everything you know share with each other without any level or hyrarchie. Ik heb veel van deze gedachten personlijk geannaliseerd. als we wijze raad volgen, gaan we tot ons true zelve komen. maar we moeten kunnen aannemen wat mensen kunnen weten. en daarom ben ik voorstander van alles wat je weet deel het met mekaar zonder enige level of hyrarchie.

Dan Le, Melbourne

"Animal manure can indeed contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, but can't it be broken down by decomposers and 'returned' back to the nitrogen cycle ready for denitrification ?" 

In response to the article regarding managing the nitrogen cycle,animal manure can indeed contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, but can't it be broken down by decomposers and 'return' back to the nitrogen cycle ready for denitrification? Further more, it is organic, and should be used to prevent the upsetting the natural ecosystem and balance that could happen due to usage of inorganic fertilizers.

challa raju, andhra pradesh, india


it is very essential for todays a human activity should have to involve for better plans towards the economy and security...

John Redford, Arlington, MA


This project lacks context, and that's why its recommendations are so random. There are hundreds of serious problems to work on, and there's no clue as to why the panelists liked these. E.g. they have three separate energy challenges (reducing the cost of solar power, making fusion work, and sequestering carbon), but there are a huge number of other energy issues (restarting fission and handling its waste, reducing transport energy needs, fixing the distribution grid, etc.), and no clue as to why these three are the big ones. Nor is it clear who this is aimed at. Is it meant for students choosing career paths? Then why is "securing cyberspace" (a problem of narrow scope and interest) in the same category as "fixing the nitrogen cycle" (a completely open-ended problem that's probably more political than technical)? Is it meant for the NSF? Then why are areas of already intense research like solar power in there? They put together a stellar panel of people for this, but the end result is embarrassingly unfocused. It comes across as a laundry list of personal interests. "Enhancing virtual reality"? I mean, come on.

Joe Rosenberger, Kalamazoo, MI, USA

"Projects need to have a scope and a deliverable that is constrained and motivated by a time line, a budget, and a consequence. " 

I think "How" a project is constructed needs to be considered. Projects need to have a scope and a deliverable that is constrained and motivated by a time line, a budget, and a consequence. The moon shot is a good example. The deliverable was "send a man to the surface of the moon, and return him safely." The budget was quite large, but controlled by congress. The timing was "by the end of this decade", less than ten years. And the consequence was being surpased in technology by the USSR. Because of this structure, the impossible was achieved. The Manhattan Project was another example of my point. A modern day success is the mapping of the human gnome. Certainly, not all research should have this high pressure structure, but we definitely need some of this. The NSF should pick one form of cancer, and cure it; pick one or more forms of renewable energy and make it mainstream in a portion of the US; have other agencies pick one innercity with a failed economy and right it. We would learn so much from these specific successes that could be translated to greater success. We are spread too thin on all fronts. We need a "management tool" to focus, and establish a beechhead of a success.

g.u.nasaruddin, india


"all hard workers may not be a winner, but every winner must be a hard worker!"...

Nick Polimeni, Reno, Nevada, and Canto, China

"A scientific and engineering view of economic can yield models that are far superior to what economists have been able to produce. " 

Getting out of their conventional envelope is the most difficult challenge of all for any profession. Therefore, this one may be hard to swallow. Economics is and has been in the hands of bankers and governments for centuries, and we continue to experience repeated failures, and these failures have social repercussion on all levels, including research funding for the advancing of humanity. Yet, economics is only an imperfect subject because unpredicted variables are thrown into the equation by vested interests, and the entire equation is thrown out of quilt. When closely examined, the factors are not only capable of being accurately quantified, but are also subject to accurate prediction. A scientific and engineering view of economic can yield models that are far superior to what economists have been able to produce. It only requires some thinking and understanding what is going on, and what a scientific system of economics should be like.

It is my belief, and if one thinks it through, it will be easy to see that resolving the economic conundrum is the fastest way to the achievement of all other scientific, engineering, social, and political problems of the 21st Century. It only took some 20 or 30 years for the scientific community to convince the politicians about global warming... Economics is a lot more predictable (properly designed) than what the weather will be like in 50 years. So why not solve economics first? Respectfully yours, N. Polimeni

guo wu, watertown ma


I hope in my life time I would like to see these things happen: The first section is about health. The stem cell can grow your own organs and tooth, just like replacing auto parts. It will make life more healthy and longer. Second a car that can fly like an air plane. It also use solar and electicity and does'nt make any pollution. Thirdly when snow lies on the ground it will melt right away. No more shoveling and removal equipment. Fourth after mowing grass put is into a machine to make milk. The milk be at least as good or better than cows milk.



I believe that ENERGY deserves much more attention and will be the most critical engineering challenge. The Global Energy International Prize recognized,in 2004,the need to extract the remaining (about 99%) energy in the world's "nuclear waste" to make a significant contribution. This is primarily an "ENGINEERING CHALLENGE", the "science" is well established, but NAE doesn't even include it. I suspect that your committee has given "political correctness" far to much attention. Growing corn to produce (negative?) energy may be politically correct, but technically flawed. I suggest that you go to their website and get an International perspective on Energy. Go to: (in English)

Mike, Dallas


Seems amazing to me that finding new ways to grow food with less water, locally, is not a goal. If Africa could grow more food options there would be less famine.

William D'Emilio, NY,NY


Creative Collaboration...with a convergence of disciplines now the norm...interdisciplinary projects require a different mindset than the segmented chronology heretofore exercised...linear and lateral thinking must be mutually engaged, thus allowing for comprehensive analysis and visualizations...DDM advantages become apparent, when products are specifically designed with them in mind !!

Tensay, DE


I am a first year civil engenering student on thes page i did not find the causes and effects on thes filed. wuold you pleas share me some of the cases of the mager problems in these area like building or highway etc.

k.Raghavendran, Bangalore, India


Dear Sirs, So much is being talked about on desalination and other methods and processes for obtaining clean and potable water. However, there is one source which, to this writer's knowledge, no one seems to have thought of, viz.,water that is pure and potable going waste when it rains on the oceans. This writer has devised a scheme for collecting rain water in specially designed barges anchored at different locations on the oceans and conveying to the on-shore storage facilities. The scheme includes means to prevent damage to the installation as well as damage to ships if any ship approaches the installation. This writer will gladly share the knowhow with the National Academy of Engineering. With warm regards, yours truly, K.Raghavendran

Mike Rosing, Madison WI


On the Fusion front, there are many other choices besides ITER. It is a good planning to fund many concepts related to a core idea so that cross fertilization can take place. This leads to more rapid technological advancement over the long run. Funding some of the inertial confinement ideas along with ITER will enhance all fusion engineering solutions. I'm sure the same holds true on many other challenges. Funding several ideas which solve the same problem will get us solutions faster because it may well take all those ideas plus some nobody thought of the first time through to get a job done., Fairbanks Alaska


In the future even children will laugh at the primitive humans who stagnated themselves in the intellectual dark ages of our times by pursuing all manner of technologies before learning intellectual technology. Upon learning intellectual technology, abhorrent to and feared by organizational technology, and therefore never allowed within discussion of organizations, all other technologies are rapidly advanced beyond the current understanding of those within our intellectual dark ages. The technology to efficiently eliminate all contradictions identified by the human mind has long been known. So why do contradictions still saturate human activity, especially with vast arrays of institutions, such as engineers and government, claiming to be eliminating contradictions (solving problems)? The flawlessly verifiable answer, effecting no contradiction, is of obviously vast value, but no institution will ask the question, or would question their answers. Let me know when your institution wishes to advance beyond its verifiable process of self-stagnation. And imagine my amusement with conveying this offer, among countless such offers to institutions. May you learn the most knowledge of the most concepts, most efficiently. cc: the observers

Jim Bourassa, Chicago, IL


Many of these challenges can be met by an understanding of what occurs at the sub-atomic level. We show that the fundamental constants in physics, such as the fine-structure, the masses of the electron and proton, and gravitation are not just random values, but have an exact value based upon a quantum-scale, dynamic Aether (the Aether unit has a precise value equal to Coulomb's constant times 16pi˛). The Aether Physics Model is stunning in that it mathematically predicts and explains the measured values of physics with striking precision. Beyond a revolutionary paradigm of the fundamental laws and taking all the disciplines of science to a new level, practical applications of availing the Aether could include benefits to humanity such as anti-gravity, clean energy, and fully developing biotechnology and nanotechnology. For more, see http://www.quantumaetherd

Neshad Asllani, Kosova


It is good being equal and included.

David Dilworth, Carmel, Calif


All, I repeat all, of your "solutions" are fiddling while Rome burns; rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic. I am astounded that none of you think the population problem is even wotrhy of needing a solution. Have any of you read about the ecological collapse of the oceans? The water crisis we've been in for decades? I am so far beyond disappointed, I am at a loss for words. -David Dilworth

George Bourgois, Paducah, KY


I hope the acomplishments of Dr. John H. Davis will be recognized. It was he who developed the switching network and other aspects of cellular radio now known as cellular telephone. A common man he rose from a small town to be head of Bell Laboritories. His many inventions and theories can be found on the internet. Dr. Davis passed away in November 2006. His many engineering accomplishment cannot be listed here. Dr. John H. Davis, native of Paducah, Kentucky

David Angle, Salt Lake City, Ut


One Item that I did not see touched on was the preservation of Cultural and Scientific Data, Theories, and Information against the possibility of a New Dark Age. Some sort of project along the lines of the Millennium Seed Bank Project should be impimented to insure the collected world knowledge is not lost, as was the case when Rome fell and the Library of Alexandria burned. We owe it to our descendants to secure our intellectual heritage for their benefit.

Hieu Van Tran, Viet Nam


Energy: No more oil, solar energy, ocean energy. Environment: global warming, pollution, glacier ice melting. Transportation: multiple vertical deck free way; space travel; 1000mpg car. Robotics: labor replacement; factory intelligent automation. Health: preventive, low cost, free medicine, electronic health care, electronic doctor; active old age. Education: free education (e-text; virtual professor). Work: mobile-virtual cubicle. Entertainment: participative and personal entertainment, virtual senses. Space: space habitat/travel

Sanjayan, Marat


We must think how to produce and store electrical power for our daily use from the energy we are wasting daily, such as by fixing a power generator on the peddler which is used in the gym, think about a 3 member family spend 30 minutes on a peddler or similar equipment can generate how much energy? What is the cost to store and reuse etc.

Michael Wiggin, Ottawa, Canada


I believe that engineers and scientists need to understand how the political process works and then work to provide information that can be understood and appreciated by all. We also need to stand up and challenge policies or ideas that lead nowhere or have negative impact - on energy security, sustainability and social justice globally. The we need to be honest and scrutinize ourselves and make sure that we are truly contributing to the well being of all mankind - and our fellow earthlings on this planet on which we depend for our lives. Technology is wonderful as long as it respects the constraints and opportunities that apply within our shrinking planet.

thibaut e sambou, banjul the gambia


I am sure that if we concentrate much more on the technologies based on how convert dc to ac torrow natural element like sun heat and submarine pressure with air there will be a restriction of at iess sixty five percent of carbonated gas

Suresh Parmar, Udaipur


very nice

suresh parmar, sirohi


i like.

Luciano Fleischfresser, Enid, OK


If we are to use crops to make bio-fuels without straining food supply, we need to learn how to grow crops in space. Be it on an orbiting space station, the Moon, Mars, or somewhere else, bioengineering know-how is requested at the frontier of knowledge.

Jameel Ahmad, Cooper Union, New York, NY


Preserving and enhancing the quality of life for the world's growing population by providing access to clean water, clean air, affordable housing, mass transportation, waste disposal , and clean energy and the resoration and rehabilitation of civil infrastructure following natural and man-made disasters will dwarf all other challenges facing engineering in the next hundred years.

Clifford Rose, New York City


Humanity is messing up on environmental control of itself and our small planet, Proposal: Build space-settlements for Humanity between the Earth and Moon. By looking down, instead of up from our small planet, we could take the time to study our planet like we study Mars.We could study how Earth will heal itself and make our planet one big farm. Space-truckers can truck the food we need for our many billions of Humans. Our water planet appears it wants to reduce land mass.So, let it. Humanity for Eternity (01.30.07/CiR).

Harold Forsen, Truckee, CA


With energy and its distribution being one of the largest future energy problems and engineering being an essential part of it, it is hard to understand why no one on the committee carries credentials in this field.

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