January 31, 2007

Grand Challenges for Engineering

Grand Challenges for Engineering is a site created by the US National Academy of Engineering. The purpose is for us to tell them what the greatest challenges for engineering are in the coming years! There's a bunch of different thematic sections where we can leave comments: Hopes/World Needs; Innovations/Technologies, Ideas, Research and Grand Challenges/Give us your thoughts as well as a general comment area.

This is truly one of the best examples of a site with user-supplied content I have ever seen. The input on the various pages is generally well thought-out, probing and relevant. It's facinating to see users talking about not just technological challenges, but social challenges in engineering as well, such as offshoring, career opportunities, women and minorities in engineering, the environment, sustainability and the rest. Even better, so many of the posts relate technical challenges to these social challenges as well. Great stuff, well worth poking around in the various sections.

From the Feature Essay by Jimmy Carter:

Having been educated in naval and nuclear engineering, I have a great interest in the role of our profession in helping to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future.

The safe and efficient use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes will inevitably be an important challenge for engineers, as will the development of renewable forms of energy. As a farmer and woodsman, I have a personal interest in the production of ethanol and bio-diesel fuels to replace the limited supplies of oil. Although it is unlikely that there will ever be enough food grains and sugarcane to meet these needs, cellulose from trees can make this contribution and also help resolve the overall problem of global warming. There will be numerous suggestions like these within the National Science Foundation to improve the quality of life in the more affluent industrialized nations, so I would like to emphasize another, even greater need.

Carter certainly defines that "greater need" in the context of a great engineering challenge. Read the essay.

One comment, though, the posters seem to somewhat ignore the thematic nature of the various sections and just give their thoughts. The designers of the site should probably have used fewer sections with more strongly defined themes. Via the Scout Report.

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