NSF-AEESP Grand Challenges Workshops - Objectives



The emergence of Environmental Engineering and Science as an independent discipline can be largely tied to the nation’s first set of comprehensive environmental regulatory initiatives, especially the Clean Air Act (1970), Clean Water Act (1972), Safe Drinking Water Act (1974) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability (“Superfund”) Act (1980).  These Acts funded both research and infrastructure investments that transformed the treatment and provision of water and wastewater, while contributing to dramatic improvements in the quality of the nation’s air and water.  The discipline of Environmental Engineering and Science has played a critically important role in these monumental accomplishments.

In recent years, however, research funding in many of the discipline’s traditional focus areas has been stagnant or declining.  In the meantime, there has been rapid expansion in regulatory interest and funding associated with environmental initiatives related to energy, climate change and sustainability, among other topics.  Nonetheless, to date, there have been no community-wide initiatives to consider the broader implications of this changing landscape on our discipline’s research agenda, curricula (undergraduate and graduate) and academic identity.  Consequently, a community dialogue is needed to proactively discuss how we might modify the scope and direction of our discipline in this dynamic environment.

These three workshops build upon an NSF-sponsored workshop held at Yale University in summer 2015 and will serve as a way of jumpstarting this dialogue.  Each will include invited speakers and open discussions that will begin a conversation intended to:

  • Identify areas of environmental research currently experiencing high growth, both those consistent with traditional Environmental Engineering and Science research themes, as well as those that are currently outside the discipline’s traditional themes;
  • Consider recommendations with respect to how the Environmental Engineering community can better position itself to more rapidly expand into high growth research areas;
  • Develop suggestions regarding how curricula might be adapted to prepare students for research or work in these new areas.

The final product will be a report that synthesizes the input obtained from workshop participants, and provides recommendations that will be made available to both the Environmental Engineering and Science community (via the AEESP website), and the National Research Council Committee currently being formed by the Water Science Technology Board to identify Environmental Engineering’s Grand Challenges.