Summit in March

Engineering Summit at Duke in March

As the nation struggles with the challenges of weaning itself from fossil fuels, being responsible stewards of the planet, and understanding the inner workings of the human brain, it is increasingly clear that no one discipline, technology or individual can solve these problems alone.

Addressing such complex, and sometimes conflicting, issues will necessarily require innovation and cooperation from engineers of all kinds, as well as policy makers, economists, geologists, biologists and sociologists – to name a few. Getting such a diverse group together to discuss the nation’s priorities can be quite a challenge.

Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering is taking that challenge in a grand way.

Along with partners University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering and Olin College, Duke will host an impressive slate of experts who will converge on campus in March to address the pressing concerns identified by a new report from the National Academy of Engineering.

Billed as the Summit on the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges, the event will be held March 2-3, 2009.

The NAE has identified 14 critical barriers – Grand Challenges -- to a sustainable way of life. They represent problems that will require a combination of science, technology and policy to solve, such as producing alternative energy, safeguarding the environment, preventing nuclear terror, producing clean water and improving medicines and health infomatics.

The Summit is a call to action and will serve as a focal point for society's attention to the most important opportunities that challenge our quality of life. Such a summit — pulling the best minds together for debate and focused conversation — is one way to build the community who will build the future, organizers said.

“Nearly all of these challenges address complex social issues that require technology to solve but cannot be solved by technology alone,” said Tom Katsouleas, dean of Pratt’s School of Engineering and organizer of the Summit. “Most require engineers to work with policy makers, business professionals, social scientists and humanists; and most are inherently global by nature.  

“The NAE has shown us that our profession must move from devices alone to global social challenges and has identified a number of exciting ones,” Katsouleas continued.  “At the same time, we have also learned that this generation of students wants to be engaged in such challenges.  The summit is an opportunity to capitalize on this coincidence. Through programs like these, we can engage students in society’s grand challenges and prepare them to be the generation that solves them.”

The specific goals of the Summit are:

  • To enhance student interest in engineering and science.
  • To increase the visibility and importance of engineering and science to society.
  • To underscore the importance of recognizing that engineering education must be coupled to policy/business/law and must be student-focused.
  • To foment future collaborations of interested scientists, engineers, policy makers and researchers in business, law, social sciences and humanities needed to successfully address these complex societal issues.

To achieve these goals, speakers from across the country and the spectrum of expertise are scheduled to attend, including:

Charles Vest – NAE president
Steven Chu – Nobel laureate, director of Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory
Robert Socolow – Princeton University
Robert Langer – MIT, recipient of 2008 Milennium Technology Prize
Tom Byers – Stanford University
Donald MacLean Kerr – principal deputy director, National Intelligence
Jeff Hawkins – founder, Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience

Also at the Summit, the winner of a national student video contest will be announced. College students across the U.S. have been asked to create a video and write an essay in response to this question: Which of the 14 grand challenges identified by the National Academy of Engineering would you choose to address, and how would you do it?

The winning team or individual will receive $15,000 in cash. Second place captures $10,000 and third-place winners will receive $5,000.

The video contest is part of an outreach effort to engage college students in "big picture thinking," said Katsouleas. The video will be premiered at the Summit.

The contest prize money, provided by an anonymous donor, is intended to stimulate student interest in the grand challenges. "It is critical to the future of our society to engage and prepare the best and the brightest of our students in addressing these issues," said Katsouleas. "They will be the generation that will solve them."

Information about entering the contest can be found at the Grand Chellenge site.