Grand Challenges of the 21st Century

In September, President Obama released his Strategy for American Innovation, designed to foster sustainable growth and help create high-quality jobs.  One of the goals of the President’s strategy is to harness science and technology to address the “grand challenges” of the 21st century in areas such as health, clean energy, national security, and education and life-long learning. 

Examples of specific goals that have been previously articulated by the President and others include early detection of dozens of diseases from a saliva sample, solar cells as cheap as paint, and educational software that is as compelling as the best video game and effective as a personal tutor.

Today, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Economic Council are releasing a “request for information” that is designed to collect input from the public regarding:

  • The grand challenges that were identified in the President’s innovation strategy;
  • Other grand challenges that the Administration should consider, such as those identified by the National Academy of Engineering;
  • Partners (e.g. companies, investors, foundations, social enterprises, non-profit organizations, philanthropists, research universities, consortia, etc.) that are interested in collaborating with each other and the Administration to achieve one or more of these goals; and
  • Models for creating an “architecture of participation” that allows many individuals and organizations to contribute to the process of finding solutions to these grand challenges.

Responses to this RFI are due April 15th and should be submitted electronically to

I am delighted by the level of enthusiasm and excitement that has recently grown around the concept of grand challenges, and the chance to build on some fantastic work that has already been done.

For example, the Administration will be working closely with the National Academy of Engineering, which is organizing a series of six summits on their Grand Challenges for Engineering.

More than 25 universities have already agreed to participate in the Grand Challenge Scholars Program.  Undergraduate students at these campuses will be able to tackle these problems by integrating research, an interdisciplinary curriculum, entrepreneurship, international activities, and service learning.

To explore new ways of tapping the expertise of the American people on these grand challenges, we will be working with Expert Labs, a non-profit independent lab that is affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.   Expert Labs is collaborating with the technology community to develop better tools for harnessing our "collective IQ" and encouraging Americans interested in science, technology, and innovation to help inform public policy.

I encourage your participation and your help spreading the word about this exciting approach to unleashing American ingenuity.

Tom Kalil is OSTP’s Deputy Director for Technology

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