Monday, 3 March 2008
The National Academy of Engineering recently published its Grand Challenges for Engineering. The Academy points out that engineering has risen to and accomplished many challenges during the past centuries. During the 20th century, the widespread distribution of electricity, clean water, the development of the automobile and airplane, spacecraft and lasers, radio and television, represent just a few of the engineering highlights that have helped humankind. What will be the challenges of the 21st century? The National Academy established a committee of technical thinkers to identify a representative list. For a complete list, go to www.engineeringchallenges.org.
I would like to highlight just a couple of civil engineering-related challenges. The first is a concern over the quality and quantity of water. Out of the approximately 6.5 billion people who live on our planet, 1.6 billion do not have adequate drinking water. Another 2.6 billion do not have adequate sewage disposal. The challenges ahead range from new technologies for desalinating seawater to small-scale local water purification projects. ASCE is actively engaged in this issue through our involvement in Liquid Assets, a Penn State Public Broadcasting documentary focused on water infrastructure. Another civil engineering-related challenge is sustaining the aging infrastructure. ASCE's Report Card clearly demonstrates the condition of America's infrastructure. Our challenge exists not just in the United States, but throughout the world, to build new infrastructure that is sustainable, environmentally friendly and aesthetic.
ASCE also recognizes the importance of looking to the future of the profession through Vision 2025, a report on the 2006 Summit on the Future of Civil Engineering. The purpose of this meeting was to articulate an aspirational global vision for the future of civil engineering addressing all levels and facets of the civil engineering community. You can learn more about that report online.
I urge you to go to NAE's Engineering Challenges Web site, http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/, where you will find more information about each of the challenges. In addition, the National Academy is conducting a poll to tally which of the engineering challenges site visitors believe is the most important. Each of you should vote for the challenge that you think is the most significant for engineering. This voting screen will pop up as soon as you visit the site. After you vote, tell us what you voted for and why.