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Grand Challenges

Over at Bench Press, my buddy Anthony posted about the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s collaboration with the White House and Expert Labs to help identify “which scientific and technological challenges should be the focus of policy initiatives in the coming years.” The collaboration is unique in that, to my knowledge, it is the first time (or at least one of the first times) the federal government has used social media/crowdsourcing to help shape science policy.

While my first reaction was “we’re so screwed that the White House is using Twitter/Facebook to figure out our future science policy!?”, I felt it would be fun to participate in my own little way via this blog post (even though the deadline for submission was technically April 15, I’m hoping the non-140-character-limited nature of this blog post carries some weight! :-)).

So, without further ado, here would be my list of ten things (all super-broad and super-idealistic, of course), in no particular order:

  • Enabling medical treatments to be tailored for an individual patient’s history, age, gender, and genetics
  • Safer, more precisely targeted treatments which don’t damage or affect cells they are not supposed to
  • New chemical, physical, or biological processes to more cheaply produce drugs and other chemicals
  • Advanced energy storage capable of at least an order of magnitude better energy density than existing Lithium ion batteries
  • Chemical, physical, or biological methods to capture carbon dioxide and handle the increasing amounts of pollution people are generating
  • An improved understanding of the complex systems which govern our world through new mathematical/computational techniques for approximating NP-complete problems and calculating/understanding non-linear partial differential equations
  • Petaflops-capable supercomputers which cost as much and consume as much energy as a laptop today
  • (Partially inspired by Star Trek) Intelligent natural language processing so that computers can actually understand and translate language
  • (Partially inspired by Star Trek) General-purpose scanning device capable of quickly detecting chemicals, sounds, and forms of radiation as well as performing simple tomography scans (via ultrasound and/or some other form of low-energy radiation scanning)
  • (Partially inspired by Star Trek) Near-light-speed space travel to explore beyond the solar system and allow humans to move beyond near Earth orbit

Picking ten was actually pretty difficult. There are clearly many other important scientific questions to be answered, but these were my ten. What would be on your list?

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One Comment

  1. During the Plenary sessions at last week's American Academy of Neurology conference, tweets were the recommended form of communication of questions to the well-renowned, invited speakers.

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