Transforming the world – engineers gather in Washington to tackle global grand challenges

Leading speakers from around the world joined forces with young engineers just starting out on their careers in Washington DC last week, to take action on the grand challenges facing the world that engineers can help address.

The 2017 Global Grand Challenges Summit, the third in a series of biennial events hosted jointly by the US National Academy of Engineering, the Chinese Academy of Engineering and the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering, recognised the role that engineering can play in addressing the issues outlined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. With a particular focus on the themes of sustainability, health, public engagement and education, and deep dives into cutting edge research in artificial intelligence and virtual reality, the summit also aimed to inspire the public and policymakers to take action on these critical issues.

The UK delegation included Baroness Lane-Fox CBE, who spoke about the importance of maintaining fairness in the digital world; Professor Molly Stevens FREng, Professor of Biomedical Materials and Regenerative Medicine at Imperial College London, who discussed how biomaterials can benefit human health; and the UK’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies DBE FMedSci FRS, who called upon engineers to tackle the complex and pressing challenge presented by antimicrobial resistance. Lord Broers FREng FRS, past President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a member of all three hosting Academies, presented a personal view of the history of the Grand Challenges initiative.

Well-known speakers were joined at the conference by over 500 student leaders, representing some of the most promising engineers of their generation from China, the US and the UK.

A Student Business Competition saw five teams of university students from each of the representative countries pitching design solutions to tackle one of the Grand Challenges for Engineering. The WorldCare Technologies team from the University of California, San Diego won the $25,000 first prize for their HIV viral load monitoring system, while a team of six student engineers from Bournemouth University in the UK took second prize for their modular water filter system design, MoreWater, winning $15,000.  

The Summit also featured a poster competition, with a student team from Newcastle University winning in the undergraduate impact category.

Dr John Lazar CBE FREng, Royal Academy of Engineering lead on the Summit Advisory Committee said: “It is impossible for a society to make progress without sufficient investment and innovation in the technology and infrastructure we rely on so heavily. In short, lack of engineering capacity hinders economic and social development. The good news is that there is a will, the world over, to change this, and invest in engineering to achieve sustainable development.

“A decade ago, the US National Academy of Engineering set us on a new path to thinking about how engineering can help us make progress towards those goals. The Grand Challenges that were drawn up now drive engineering students across the world to focus research, innovation and collaboration on these themes, and the discussions had at the summit were a real demonstration of the headway we have made so far.”

A Change the World Programme organised and facilitated by the UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) ran throughout the Summit, encouraging the students to work in multi-country teams to develop podcasts that address one of the Grand Challenges for Engineering.  

In two years’ time, this global community of young engineers will shape the discussions at the next joint Global Grand Challenges Summit, to be hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering in London. 

Notes for editors

  1. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

    We have four strategic challenges:
    - Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation
    - Address the engineering skills crisis
    - Position engineering at the heart of society
    - Lead the profession

For more information, please contact:

Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering
T: 020 7766 0636
E: Jane Sutton