This week, USC is hosting the National Academy of Engineers Grand Challenges Summit. What are these so-called “Grand Challenges”? Today, at the students-only day, I found out.

Engineering encompasses a range of topics that interest me because they are associated almost exclusively with moving forward, discovering new things, and making progress. History is fun, but it’s looking backwards. English is… English. But engineering is whatever you make it to be.

In that light, a committee at the NAE developed a list of fourteen achievements that they believe to be feasible and significant for engineers to tackle in the twenty-first century. From securing cyberspace to making fusion power feasible to managing the nitrogen cycle, these are tasks that will take America and the world’s most brilliant minds, and today’s activities served to inspire those very people.

There was a Hall of Innovation featuring really cool (mostly computer science!) demonstrations, a room where people could assemble solar cookers for use in the developing world, an improv for engineers program, and a quiz bowl. I stuck around most of the day (who needs to go to CS 200? GUI’s are easy in Java….), and I had a great time meeting people from other schools, laughing at myself making poor attempts at improving, and hearing a speech from the president of the NAE, Chuck Vest.

It was very cool, and I can’t wait for the conference proper to start tomorrow morning!