Smalley Institute Grand Challenges
Vision: We lead the world in
solving humanity’s most pressing problems through the application of
Over 2002 and 2003, Professor
Richard E. Smalley developed a list of the Top Ten Problems Facing Humanity
over the next 50 Years as described below.
The Smalley Institute has identified 5 of these problems as our Grand
Challenges – energy, water, environment, disease, education. The faculty researches of the Smalley
Institute use a variety of nanotechnology approaches to significantly impact
these Grand Challenges.
Where did this list come
from? Over 2002 and 2003, Professor
Richard E. Smalley posed the question “What will be the Top Problems facing the World in the not too distant future – 50 years?” to several of his captive
audiences. Professor Smalley asked them to
think globally and to keep in mind the world population will grow from 6.5
billion in 2003 to 10 billion in 2050. Each
group questioned consistently provided six answers – energy, water, food,
environment, poverty, terrorism & war.
The other four listed were presented by most groups – disease,
education, democracy, population.
Once the top ten have been
identified, the question becomes how to rank them. Professor Smalley chose the following
criteria – problems are weighted more heavily if solving them makes it easier
to solve another problem. So let’s run
through them …
If abundant, affordable, clean
energy and water were readily available to everyone, all of the other 8
problems become much easier to solve.
Consequently, energy and water are at the top of the list. Now which ranks higher? With abundant energy resources, sea water
could be easily desalinated by boiling.
Affordable energy also increases the availability of potable water by
making transportation across the land cost-effective. It is very hard to make the argument that
with abundant potable water supplies we could solve the energy crisis. Therefore, energy is ranked #1 and water #2.
Moving further down the list,
with a population of over 10 billion in 2050, #3 Food will be a tremendous issue.
If clean, abundant energy and water were available the issue of food
shortage would be greatly diminished. The
concern over #4 the Environment would
be greatly lessened with a cleaner energy source. Additionally, environmental remediation of
other pollutants will undoubtedly require new technology and the energy to
power that technology. #5 Poverty is an interesting issue because
it encompasses many other issues like food, shelter, clothing, and clean
water. We have already demonstrated how
energy will impact food and water supplies.
With affordable energy supplies, societies would be able to produce more
goods and services thereby providing the shelter and clothing needed to
significantly impact the issue of poverty.
Rounding out the six problems identified by all survey groups is #6 Terrorism and War. In modern history energy has played a key
role in war with one example being Germany’s
clash with Russia
at the Battle of Stalingrad. In WWII, Germany went into Russia
and fought Battle at Stalingrad to get to the oil-rich
Caucasus region in order to supply their
forces with adequate energy. While
energy is not the underlying issue with terrorism, energy does significantly
impact poverty which if solved would reduce the threat of terrorism
Continuing with the responses
provided by most survey groups, we have listed #7 Disease. Disease is directly
impacted by sanitation and economic access to medicine, food, and clean water –
all areas energy impacts. Addressing #8 Education is a much easier issue to
tackle once poverty, disease, and war are reduced – all problems where energy
has great influence. #9 Democracy is the natural evolution of societies
where education, poverty, disease, and war are not major concerns, which comes
from access to affordable energy.
Finally, #10 Population is a
little tricky. One could argue if
population were #1 it would solve or at least significantly impact all of the
other issues. So what is the appropriate
level of population? Looking at the
concerns of today, one could argue zero population growth over the next 50
years would be necessary. Perhaps, but the
question then becomes how do you control population to that degree? Looking to anthropology we find the answer to
the population issue – external factors.
In societies with economic prosperity and educated women, the rate of
population increase is significantly lower than that of nations with neither or
only one. Take for example Germany versus Saudi Arabia. Germany has reached economic
prosperity and educated their female population. Saudi Arabia has reached economic
prosperity but not educated their female population. In 2007, Germany’s
birth rate was 8.2 births/1,000 population while Saudi Arabia was 29.1 births/1,000
population. This is only one of several
data points that support a similar conclusion.
Therefore, the world population will be naturally controlled by
significantly increasing education and bolstering economic well-being (reducing
poverty, war, disease and increasing democracy) – all factors that are
significantly impacted by solving the world’s energy problem.
We hope that we have been able to
put into perspective the global issues or Grand Challenges the Smalley
Institute strives to overcome. Now the
question becomes “How do we solve these
problems?” The faculty researches of
the Smalley Institute use a variety of nanotechnology approaches to significantly
impact the Institute’s Grand Challenges –
energy, water, environment, disease, education. We invite you to learn more about our impact
on each Grand Challenge through our website.