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Duke forum to address global engineering problems

Experts will gather at Duke University March 2-3 to discuss engineering solutions to major challenges facing the world today, ranging from national security to education and energy.

The summit is in response to the Grand Challenges for Engineering report ( issued last year by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) that detailed how engineering has and will play a critical part in resolving major societal issues.

Topics to be addressed at the NAE Grand Challenges Summit include alternative energy, green technologies, health care, national security, and education and learning. Participants will include Robert Langer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology bioengineer, and Jeff Hawkins, founder of the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience.

The summit is jointly hosted by Duke University, the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering and Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. The event is open to the public, but registration is required at

In the NAE report, 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 led this effort, addressing such complex, and sometimes conflicting, issues will necessarily require innovation and cooperation from engineers of all kinds, as well as policymakers, economists, a broad range of scientists and -- importantly -- the public," said NAE President Charles Vest. "Only by coming together can we make a difference in the world and secure our future."

Thomas Katsouleas, dean of Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, said: "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. Our hope is that the summit will represent the beginning of a national conversation that leads the nation to answer that call."

Yannis Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, added, "When the NAE announced the Grand Challenges almost a year ago, the world was a different place. Today, the challenges are more relevant than ever. The innovation needed to address them is the key enabler that will help create a future world better than the one we have inherited. This summit is meant to start this daunting effort now."

Richard K. Miller, president of Olin, said: "The magnitude of the challenges facing us requires a new kind of thinking about how we educate engineers. We need globally aware engineers who are schooled in creativity and teamwork, and able to see their work in the context of society's needs. This summit is a great opportunity to further the conversation about the big issues facing humanity and the skills and collaborations that will be necessary to tackle them."

In addition to the scientific sessions, the results of a national survey on the public's perceptions of the major technological challenges ahead, and how they feel about the country's ability to adequately address them, will be released. The survey was conducted by Hart Research Associates.


Contact: Richard Merritt
Duke University

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