Professor Dame Ann Dowling
Dame Ann Dowling Head of the Department of Engineering
University of Cambridge

As Chair of the international steering group, I would like to extend a warm welcome to you to the first Global Grand Challenges Summit.

The Summit — jointly organised by the UK, US and Chinese national academies of engineering — will see nearly 500 engineering thought leaders and future leaders from all three countries come together to discuss how engineering can contribute to solving the complex problems that will delimit humanity’s progress over the next century.

I am extremely impressed by the quality of high level speakers at this summit: including Bill Gates, Craig Venter, Robert Langer, Frances Arnold, Lord Darzi, Jo da Silva, Jeffrey Sachs and Regina Dugan, among many others. And I am delighted that these names have been complemented by a gallery of rising stars, including some of the leading Chinese engineers of their generation.

But this event is not about elite engineers from the UK, US and China talking amongst themselves. This is about the global engineering community coming together to radically rethink the way it innovates, educates and collaborates in order to better prepare for the complex challenges it will be called upon to address.

Our inspiration has been a 2008 US National Academy of Engineering report, Engineering Grand Challenges for the 21st Century. For this project, the NAE brought together a group of senior international researchers, businesspeople and policymakers to identify 14 engineering grand challenges that would drive the global research agenda in the 21st century.

I would like to see these challenges as a provocation, which we can use to untangle some fundamental issues about the place of engineering in the world. To what extent can an engineering systems approach inform international collaboration on grand challenges style projects? And how should we change the ways engineers interface with each other, and with different disciplines, policymakers, and publics, to make these projects a success?

Much hard work and support has brought us to this point. On behalf of the three organising academies, I would particularly like to thank our partners: Lockheed Martin, the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the IET. Microsoft has sponsored a Student day, and many universities and businesses on both sides of the Atlantic have supported the attendance costs of younger attendees. I would also like to credit the excellent work of my fellow steering group members, including Dean Thomas Katsouleas of Duke University, Dean Richard Miller of Olin University, Dean Yannis Yortsos of USC, and Tony Hey, Vice President of Microsoft Research, in helping to organise this event. Finally, I would like to give particular thanks to the Academy staff who have worked tirelessly over many months to ensure the success of this Summit.

This will be the start of a long conversation. But already there are encouraging signs that our Summit will have a broader impact on the role of engineering in today’s complex world. I hope that the discussions you participate in today will give you the ideas, connections and enthusiasm to take the next steps on this necessary and exciting journey.