Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
LE11 3TU
+44 (0)1509 263171


Motivating and stimulating systems engineering research that has impact

Developing even better systems engineering methods, processes and tools requires purpose and context. There is little doubt that we are entering an era where despite amazing advances in technology new problems are being created. For example it is well known that the growing population in the world presents serious challenges in terms of resources however, some of that growth is at least partially due to improvements in healthcare and vaccinations. Other problems also become extrapolated by the changing global climate, the difficulties in sustaining the global energy supply and threats to infrastructure resilience to name but a few. Solving the world's greatest challenges cannot be achieved by technology alone, instead we need to think and behave differently if we are to find the solutions. The increasing connectivity of our systems and society poses new challenges for us all. So how can we tackle such potentially insurmountable challenges?

What are the grand challenges faced by humanity in the future? This question has troubled thinkers around the world in every discipline from politics to engineering.

The idea of establishing a set of grand challenges in order to provide a coherent and consorted way forward is not new. In 1900, Hilbert presented a collection of problems that established the trajectory for significant mathematics research during the 20th Century. A huge leap for mankind was achieved as a result of the challenges overcome by the NASA Space Program to land on the moon (we have all benefited from the many technological advances that spun out from this program).

Other grand challenges have been laid down in more recent times, for example, the Grand Challenges Global Health Initiative was proposed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the aspiration that, with greater encouragement and funding, science and technology could eliminate barriers and facilitate accelerated developments against diseases that unduly affects the developing world.

In 2008 the (National Academy of Engineering) NAE initiated debates to find the Grand Challenges facing the global society in the 21st century, these are listed below (not in any ranked order) and are described in their website. However, it would be naïve to suggest that these are the only grand challenges; also, it is important to re-evaluate the challenges on a continuous basis since the pace of technological development tends to be extremely unpredictable.

1. Make solar energy economical
2. Provide energy from fusion
3. Provide access to clean water
4. Reverse-engineer the brain
5. Advance personalized learning
6. Develop carbon sequestration methods
7. Engineer the tools of scientific discovery
8. Restore and improve urban infrastructure
9. Advance health informatics
10. Prevent nuclear terror
11. Engineer better medicines
12. Enhance virtual reality
13.  Manage the nitrogen cycle
14. Secure cyberspace