Technology Thinkers Identify Grand Challenges for Engineering

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If you're considering a career in science and engineering and are looking for promising research challenges to tackle -- challenges that could lead to Nobel Prize-worthy discoveries, we could say -- you should take a look at the list below.

The list of 14 tech challenges -- with accompanying explanations, essays, videos, and discussion forums -- is part of the study Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century, prepared by the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and released today at the AAAS meeting in Boston.

The challenges:

* Make solar energy economical

* Provide energy from fusion

* Develop carbon sequestration methods

* Manage the nitrogen cycle

* Provide access to clean water

* Restore and improve urban infrastructure

* Advance health informatics

* Engineer better medicines

* Reverse-engineer the brain

* Prevent nuclear terror

* Secure cyberspace

* Enhance virtual reality

* Advance personalized learning

* Engineer the tools of scientific discovery

To identify the challenges, NAE convened an international group of leading technological thinkers that includes William Perry (Stanford professor and former U.S. Secretary of Defense), Danny Hillis (co-founder of Applied Minds), Dean Kamen (inventor and founder of DEKA Research), Robert Langer (MIT bioengineer), Larry Page (Google co-founder), Craig Venter (geneticist), Raymond Kurzweil (inventor and AI author), and Mario Molina (Nobel laureate and UCSD professor).

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The group, established in 2006, developed the list of challenges with input received through its website from prominent engineers and scientists and the general public. The choices fall into four themes: sustainability, health, reducing vulnerability, and joy of living.

"We chose engineering challenges that we feel can, through creativity and commitment, be realistically met, most of them early in this century," William Perry, the committee chair, said in a press release. "Some can be, and should be, achieved as soon as possible."

The NAE group decided not to rank the challenges but rather ask the public to do that. You can vote on which one you think is the most important at the project web site: www.engineeringchallenges.org.

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