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What are the 14 greatest engineering challenges for the 21st century?

By Layer 8 on Wed, 02/20/08 - 4:15pm.

The National Science Foundation announced today 14 grand engineering challenges for the 21st century that, if met, would greatly improve how we live. But that's not all, it wants you to rank them.

The final choices fall into four themes that are essential for humanity to flourish, - sustainability, health, reducing vulnerability and joy of living, the group said. The committee did not attempt to include every important challenge, nor did it endorse particular approaches to meeting those selected. Rather than focusing on predictions or gee-whiz gadgets, the goal was to identify what needs to be done to help people and the planet thrive, the group said.

A diverse committee of engineers and scientists - including Larry Page, co-founder and president of products, Google, Robert Langer, Institute Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Robert Socolow, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Princeton University Environmental Institute - came up with the list but did not rank the challenges. Rather the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) is offering the public an opportunity to vote on which one they think is most important. Vote here on the challenges below:

* Make solar energy affordable

* 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 for scientific discovery

Perhaps not coincidentally, the NSF this month asked the federal government for a $6.85 billion budget for fiscal year 2009 - a 13% increase over its actual fiscal 2008 budget and a 6.5% jump over what it requested a year ago - in an effort to fund more research into cybersecurity, advanced processors, new energy technologies and more.

And just last week the NSF requested $20 million from the US government for fiscal 2009 to start the "Science and Engineering Beyond Moore's Law" effort, which would fund academic research on technologies, including carbon nanotubes, quantum computing and massively multicore computers, that could improve and replace current transistor technology. Moore's Law states that the number of transistors that can be placed on silicon, and its attendant computational capability, doubles every 18 months.

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