The US National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has revealed that the panel's choices fall into four themes that are essential for humanity to flourish—namely sustainability, health, reducing vulnerability, and joy of living.
The panel, established in 2006 at the request of the US National Science Foundation, met several times to discuss and develop the list of challenges.
Its effort received worldwide input from prominent engineers and scientists as well as the general public, via an interactive website. Over 50 subject-matter experts reviewed the panel's conclusions.
The committee did not attempt to include every important challenge, nor did it endorse particular approaches to meeting those selected. Instead of focusing on predictions or gee-whiz gadgets, it decided to identify what needs to be done to help people and the planet thrive.
"We chose engineering challenges that we feel can, through creativity and commitment, be realistically met, most of them early in this century. Some can be, and should be, achieved as soon as possible," said committee chair and former US Secretary of Defense William J. Perry.
The committee decided not to rank the challenges, and leave this task to the public to decide which challenge is most important through voting at the project website, www.engineeringchallenges.org.
The website features a five-minute video overview of the project along with committee member interview excerpts. A podcast of the news conference announcing the challenges will also be available on the site starting next week.
"Meeting these challenges would be 'game changing. Success with any one of them could dramatically improve life for everyone,'" said NAE president Charles M. Vest.
Larry Page, co-founder of Google and a committee member, added: "Tremendous advances in quality of life have come from improved technology in areas such as farming and manufacturing. If we focus our effort on the grand challenges of our age, we can hugely improve the future."
Major challenges that may improve quality of life are:
• 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 discover