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A prestigious collection of institutes of higher learning, of which UT has been a select member, is about to get much larger at the urging of President Barack Obama.

Obama issued a call recently to educate twenty thousand engineers to tackle a specific set of topics called the “Grand Challenges for Engineering in the Twenty-First Century.”

The topics, fourteen in all, have been at the core of a program started by Duke University, the University of Southern California, and Olin College to help educate engineering students to meet those challenges.

Now with twenty members, including UT, the group has altered the way that budding engineers are educated in an effort to tackle the issues.

“The National Academy of Engineering’s ‘Grand Challenges for Engineering’ are already inspiring more and more of our brightest young people to pursue careers that will have direct impacts on improving the quality of life for people across the globe,” said NAE President C. D. Mote Jr.

“Imagine the impact of tens of thousands of additional creative minds focused on tackling society’s most vexing challenges. ‘Changing the world’ is not hyperbole in this case.”

To ramp up to the number of engineers that Obama has targeted, the group will expand sixfold to 120 member institutions.

“Putting this kind of focus on these topics shows how serious the issues are and how engineering affects us all,” said Wayne Davis, dean of the College of Engineering at UT. “These aren’t areas where society can afford to fail, and we’re proud to have been a part of the efforts that have already been made and of those moving forward to answer these questions.”

The fourteen “Grand Challenges” that the thousands of engineers will be expected to tackle are varied:

  • Making solar energy economical
  • Providing energy from fusion
  • Developing carbon sequestration methods
  • Managing the nitrogen cycle
  • Providing access to clean water
  • Restoring and improve urban infrastructure
  • Advancing health informatics
  • Engineering better medicines
  • Reverse-engineering the brain
  • Preventing nuclear terror
  • Securing cyberspace
  • Enhancing virtual reality
  • Advancing personalized learning
  • Engineering the tools of scientific discovery

Each student who participates has a specifically tailored outline created with the help of an advisor to fit his or her unique aspirations.

Chris Ludtka

One such student is Chris Ludtka, who will graduate from UT and the Grand Challenges Scholarship Program in May.

“Whereas a traditional student might come in and have a narrow focus on what they want to do and what they can take, the program helps give students an all-encompassing look at what is possible, and a lot more input on what you want to do,” said Ludtka.

Ludtka intends to pursue a research fellowship in Germany after graduation, continuing his previous work in the field of medical research with hopes of developing new surgical options for treatment of osteoarthritis of the spine.


David Goddard (865-974-0683,