Challenges Summit

Summit Draws More Than 1,000

For two days in March, Duke and Durham was the center of the national debate on important challenges facing the world. More than 1,000 attendees turned out at the Durham Performing Arts Center to discuss potential solutions to these pressing problems.

The summit was inspired by a report issued last year by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) which detailed how engineering has and will play a critical part in resolving major societal issues.  The topics included alternative energy, green technologies, health care, national security, and education and learning. 

An international panel of technology scholars identified 14 critical barriers to a sustainable way of life. They represent problems requiring a combination of science, technology and policy to solve, such as producing alternative energy, safeguarding the environment, providing clean water and improving healthcare.

"Although the NAE committee that generated this grand challenge list was probably thinking more about opportunities for engineering for the whole of the next century, the rapid pace of change in the world and the tenor of the challenges themselves has made the Grand Challenges unmistakably a call to arms, not just for engineers but for all of us,” said Thomas Katsouleas, dean of Duke's Pratt School of Engineering.  “Our hope is that the Summit will represent the beginning of a national conversation that leads the nation to answer that call."

The range of participants included A. Paul Alivisatos, interim director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Robert Langer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology bioengineer; and Jeff Hawkins, founder of the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience. 

Details of each of the sessions will appear in the next edition of Duke Engineering News.

In addition to the scientific sessions, a number of announcements were made, including the results of a national survey on the public's perceptions of the major technological challenges (see accompanying story), as well as the winners of national student video/essay contest (see accompanying story).

Also announced was the inception of the Grand Challenges Scholar program, a combined curricular and extra-curricular program with five components designed to prepare students to be the generation that solves the grand challenges facing society in this century.

Pilot programs are already under development at Duke, as well as at Summit co-sponsors University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering and Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Initially envisioned to attract a select group of 20-30 students at each school, it is hoped that that the new program will be replicated at other engineering programs across the country.

It is expected that the program will ultimately grow to produce each year 1,000 graduates who are uniquely prepared and motivated to address the most challenging problems facing the nation and world. The program will also serve to pilot innovative educational approaches that will eventually become the mainstream educational paradigm for all engineering students.

“Engineering skills and leadership are essential to meeting the great challenges facing humankind,” said Charles Vest, NAE president and Summit plenary speaker. “This program will build a cadre of young men and women who not only have the necessary skills, but also the cross-disciplinary knowledge, entrepreneurial spirit, global perspective and sense of mission needed to serve and lead in this century.”