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Winter/Spring 2008 Vol. 8 No. 1



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Photo by Donna Coveney, Massachusetts Institute of Technology News Office FROM THE PRESIDENT

National Academy of Engineering


Rising to the Challenge

I am privileged to address my first letter to the entire Academies community as president of the National Academy of Engineering. This gives me an opportunity to report to you on an important NAE project.

In August of 2006, my predecessor Bill Wulf appointed an international committee of extraordinarily innovative and accomplished engineers, scientists, and medical doctors to suggest a number of grand challenges to which engineers could respond to improve the human condition in the 21st century. The challenges were to be things that the committee believed could actually be accomplished during the next few decades. The committee, chaired by NAE member and former U.S. defense secretary William J. Perry, made use of a highly interactive Web site to receive suggestions from the public as it conducted its study.

Last February, the committee announced 14 Grand Challenges at a press conference during the AAAS meeting in Boston. These challenges, which appear on pages 20 and 21 of this issue of In Focus and are detailed at <www.engineeringchallenges.org>, involve energy and sustainability, medicine and health care, reducing our vulnerability to natural and human threats, and advancing human capabilities and our understanding of the world and ourselves. Meeting some of these challenges is imperative for human survival, meeting some will make us more secure, and all will improve quality of life. The public is invited to help prioritize the importance of these challenges through the Web site.

I encourage you to visit the site to read the crisp and interesting descriptions of each challenge, view a brief video about the critical problems the world is facing, and learn more about the project in general.

Sadly, traditional U.S. media paid almost no attention to the release of the Engineering Grand Challenges, whereas in Europe and Asia it garnered a lot of attention. The good news is that it is getting heavy interest in the "blogosphere," which implies that we are reaching young people. We very much hope that it will inspire them and promote an understanding of the critical and exciting role that engineering must play to meet their generation's world challenges and in advancing the human condition.

In the 20th century we were "stovepiped." Scientists discovered, engineers designed and created, and doctors healed, each separately in their own corners of the scientific community. The Grand Challenges make clear that in the 21st century engineering is melding in important ways with science and medicine, and that the context and scale of our work is increasingly global and relevant to rich and poor, in both developed and developing nations.


    CHARLES M. VEST
    President
    National Academy of Engineering



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Copyright 2008 by the National Academy of Sciences