Conference Aims to Solve World's Problems

Engineers from around the world will hold discussions at The University of Texas at El Paso to address critical problems affecting the planet, and the public is invited. The National Academy of Engineering has called engineers to action by identifying the 14 "Grand Challenges" that need to be solved in order to improve quality of life and health, create a sustainable future, and increase renewable energy.

UTEP will host the "Building Partnerships and Pathways to Address Engineering Grand Challenges Conference" Feb. 8-10 on the third floor of the Union Building East in the Tomás Rivera Conference Center. More than 80 research and government institutions from the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Canada will participate. The three-day conference will focus on finding innovative solutions to challenges that face the globe, particularly these 14 challenges:

  • Providing access to clean water
  • Preventing nuclear terror
  • Engineering better medicines
  • Advancing health informatics -- developing better health information systems to improve medical visits, counter pandemics, and biological or chemical attacks
  • Making solar energy economical
  • Developing carbon sequestration methods -- capturing and storing excess carbon dioxide to prevent global warming
  • Securing cyberspace
  • Reverse-engineering the brain -- engineers are trying to create computers capable of emulating human intelligence
  • Managing the nitrogen cycle -- engineers can help restore balance to the nitrogen cycle with better fertilization technologies and by capturing and recycling waste; controlling the impact of agriculture on the global cycle of nitrogen is a growing challenge for sustainable development
  • Providing energy from fusion -- fusion is the energy source for the sun; human-engineered fusion has been demonstrated on a small scale; the challenge is to scale up the process to commercial proportions, in an efficient, economical, and environmentally benign way
  • Restoring and improving urban infrastructure
  • Engineering the tools of scientific discovery
  • Enhancing virtual reality -- virtual reality is an illusory environment, engineered to give users the impression of being somewhere they are not; it can be used for training, treatment, and communication
  • Advancing personalized learning -- instruction can be individualized based on learning styles, speeds, and interests to make learning more reliable

The mission of the conference, sponsored by the National Science Foundation with additional support from industry sponsors Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Lockheed Martin, Shell, and Boeing, is to enhance student interest in engineering and science, and emphasize the critical role engineers play in solving issues impacting the planet.

Keynote speakers will include Victor Mendez, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration; Ray Orbach, director of the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin; and Semahat S. Demir, director of the NSF's Biomedical Engineering Program.

Researchers from different disciplines, industries, and institutions of higher education will engage in discussions, share best practices for successfully establishing partnerships, and identify what is needed to overcome obstacles to creating alliances among universities, industries, and national laboratories.

"With a tremendous effort by the members of the organizing committee, we have been able to attract some of the brightest minds in the world in the areas of energy, urban infrastructure and biomedical technology to UTEP for this conference," said Richard Schoephoerster, dean of UTEP's College of Engineering. He added that the goal is to identify opportunities for synergetic research and strategic partnerships among research universities, Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and industry; to identify the actions needed to create a culture of collaboration that facilitates the formation of research partnerships; and to showcase the capabilities of faculty from MSIs.

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