8 impossible things: Report identifies research priorities at the intersection of biology and engineeringEngineering360 News Desk | November 22, 2022
The Engineering Research Visioning Alliance (ERVA), a U.S. National Science Foundation-funded initiative, released a report identifying engineering research priorities that merge breakthroughs in biology with engineering. To envision a future with solutions for improved mobility, health and other societal benefits, the report uses “8 Impossible Things” as ideal scenarios that may become possible through engineering research. Each “impossible thing” is a future vision positively impacted through bold new research — and subsequent innovation — at the intersection of biology and engineering.
The “8 Impossible Things” were presented to more than 100 leading researchers in industry, academia and the public sector. Experts and practitioners were tasked with identifying nascent opportunities and priorities for engineering-led, innovative, high-impact research that addresses global and societal needs. A thematic task force developed these “8 Impossible Things” to kick-start thinking about research ideas that could make possible a future in which:
- Smartphones don’t need a trade-in; they’ll reproduce
- A businesswoman flies to work using her new exoskeleton
- Your bathroom mirror performs hospital-grade diagnostics
- There’s never another "your child has been exposed to..." sign at daycare
- Any-town U.S.A. manufactures all the chemicals and materials it needs from plants grown nearby
- Lifespans are no longer defined by ZIP code
- Central New York City residents breathe pristine mountain air
- A 100-year-old breaks the 100-m sprint record
“While they are separate disciplines, the convergence of biology and engineering has enormous potential to solve some of our greatest problems,” said Cato Laurencin, professor at the University of Connecticut and co-lead of the visioning event. “Collaboration in research will allow for the scientific community to come together and explore solutions to some of the biggest problems facing our world today.”
Dozens of engineering research priorities are outlined in the report, which casts the findings of the visioning event within the framework of three research domains, bio-inspired/informed, repurposing biology and improving on biology. Three common threads were identified: (1) sustainable solutions that involve repurposed or recycled materials, (2) inclusive design and research to serve all populations equitably, and (3) affordable approaches that ultimately provide low-cost solutions.