Grand Challenges in Engineering

Innovative design has the power to change lives and the world. That’s the foundation of Elon Engineering and why the National Academy of Engineering’s 14 Grand Challenges in Engineering are central to our program.

Established in 2008, the Grand Challenges are the result of an international survey of leading thinkers’ goals to improving life on the planet. They are based on the most pressing issues facing society today and span four themes: Sustainability, Health, Security and Joy of Living.

Our students are introduced to these challenges during their first days at Elon and continue to explore them in each year of study. EGR 121 and 123: Grand Challenges in Engineering I and II are typically completed in the fall and spring of an engineering student’s first year. They emphasize engineering design, teamwork, and project management with hands-on projects based on the Grand Challenges.

These innovative courses give engineering students a unique opportunity to begin working toward solutions to real-world problems from their first semester.

Grand Challenges I

two students prototype a design in the Grand Challenges in Engineering 1 courseStudents explore engineering design, engineering disciplines, professional practices, project management, ethics, and an engineer’s commitment and service to society. The course incorporates projects in health informatics, infrastructure design, and engineering for access to clean water. It culminates in a team-designed and -built remotely operated vehicle, or ROV. That final project addresses challenge #14: Engineer the tools of scientific discovery. The vehicles are designed to dive into water to perform specific tasks related to marine health, such as measuring water temperature and removing trash. Past semesters have seen students create aquatic ROVs to complete underwater maneuvers and volcano crawlers to traverse and explore treacherous terrain.

Grand Challenges II

a student completes a CAD design and prototype in Grand Challenges of Engineering 2Grand Challenges II advances students understanding and experience with design, fabrication, and computer-assisted design. After learning the fundamentals of engineering schematics and SolidWorks design software, students again work in teams to complete a hands-on design project. Final projects have included 3D-printed model rockets and solar-tracking water distillers using Arduino devices.


NAE’s 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st century:

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