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The agricultural industry is based on the science of cultivating plants, animals, and other life forms for food, fiber, and fuel. As the world’s largest consumer of water and land, agriculture must seek sustainable farming practices to ensure its survival. What factors influence where and what can be grown, production levels, and therefore profits? How will the agricultural industry adapt to feed the world’s growing population? How can we make farms profitable while protecting the environment and natural resources?
The need for humanitarian and development aid is a global phenomenon. Aid is sent to improve living conditions and create jobs in developing countries, or following natural disasters. There are many ways assistance can be deployed to those in need, including using cash grants and low-interest loans. Providing for the most vulnerable is a moral imperative, yet how to best accomplish this remains unclear. What is the best way for policymakers to provide aid? Is aid helping those it is intended to help, or are alternative solutions needed?
Electric mobility, AI technology, driverless cars, and automated factories have all irrevocably changed the landscape of the automotive industry. Many auto companies are struggling with material shortages, manufacturing shutdowns, layoffs, and slow new car sales. How will auto companies deal with this changing manufacturing climate as well as changing customer behaviors? The increasing success of self-driving and electric vehicles already begs the question of what changes will be needed to the roads and their accompanying infrastructure.
Infrastructure is the physical and organizational forces in a society, such as buildings, roads, power grids, etc. What that infrastructure looks like and provides varies greatly depending on where you are. Access to basic needs, such as water, food, housing, transportation, and electricity, is often determined by the quality and extent of that infrastructure. How does the development of infrastructure impact the growth of countries? Aging infrastructure requires updates and maintenance. New infrastructure is extremely expensive and leads to difficult decisions about which areas and people to serve. Who is responsible for infrastructure?
Retail is the sale of goods and services to consumers, from physical goods such as pharmaceuticals, electronics, and personalized merchandise to services such as auto repair and cleaning services. The integration of smart technology into the retailer and consumer experience has accelerated a change in the way people make transactions. Will the rise of online shopping change the importance of physical retail space? What are the ramifications of reduced physical retail space for wholesalers, retailers, consumers, and the societies they serve? How will this impact local economies?
Amateur scientists are non-professional researchers who contribute work to research projects. Often, they do not have formal training or careers in the project’s given field of research. Instead, they are individuals who enjoy dabbling in sciences, believe they have an innovative idea or approach to a problem, or would like to experience something new. What are the benefits and challenges of enlisting non-professional help? Is the work of amateur scientists reliable if they have access to most of the information that professionals do? How and when should amateur scientists be paid for their ideas?
Forests cover 30% of the world’s landmass and are home to 80% of the world’s plants, animals, and microbes. Increasingly, natural forests are being destroyed, along with the diversity of plant and animal life they shelter. Forests naturally clean water and air while playing an essential role in minimizing climate change. What are some ways to prevent the loss of vital forests? How can we enhance the development of new forest areas for future generations? What are the most effective ways to decrease deforestation while sustaining forestry for building, medicine, and employment opportunities?
As genetic technology advances, more opportunities exist to impact the world through genetically modifying food, animals, or humans. The transfer of genetic material from one organism to another is the basis of genetic modification. Removing certain DNA strains can potentially eliminate diseases, allergies, or other issues within humans or animals. The same actions that can lead to these benefits also raise concerns. However, there is much debate over the safety of the process or the long-term effects of GMOs. Is genetic modification the solution to supplying food to our ever-growing global population? How can genetic modification processes be improved to take advantage of its benefits?
Nanotechnology deals with manipulating individual atoms and molecules. Placing atoms as though they were bricks, nanotechnology has the potential to give control over the structure of matter, allowing us to build microscopic substances or structures permitted by the laws of nature. What products might nanotechnology help us make? Nanotechnology has direct benefits for medicine and the environment, but it may have unintended effects like all technologies. What will its effects be on the environment? The human body?
Rising Sea Levels
Two processes cause sea-level rise: thermal expansion (ocean water expansion as it heats up) and additional water flows into the oceans from ice that melts on land. The modeling and projections of sea level rises are uncertain, with a 20-30cm rise expected by 2050 and 30cm-1m by 2100. Historically human civilizations have responded to the risk of sea levels rising with retreat and adaptation. As our cities have become more permanent in modern times, a defense strategy has developed. How will coastal communities adapt to rising sea levels? What can be done to prepare for and respond to the increase in flooding, land loss, and water-logging associated with rising sea levels?
Accessibility to buildings, products, or environments for all people, regardless of age, ability, or other factors, is widely accepted. Such accessibility is often the result of awkward arrangements and makeshift renovations. Despite increased legislation and unparalleled tools to pursue universal design, diversely-abled individuals often struggle to participate in public spaces – physically and online. How are schools, transportation, healthcare, and businesses impacted by a lack of accessibility? What would accessibility look like if functions and features were part of the original design? How can accessible designs impact individuals and societies around the globe?
Education for Employment
In today’s global and high-tech economy, the education students receive no longer has the shelf life it once did. Predicting individual jobs and skills and aligned training will require constant rethinking, evidence-building, and adjustment. Research shows that people will have at least three careers in their lifetime. How might education systems adapt to provide societies with the necessary educational opportunities? How might education become more personalized as the classroom and the workforce evolve more quickly than ever? Will the days of exams be pushed to the wayside for field assessment? How will societies provide ongoing educational opportunities to maintain productivity as long as possible?
Nutritious food is a basic human need. While global food production has expanded, approximately one in three people remain food insecure. Food availability – how much food exists – is the first hurdle to feeding the global population. Access to available food may be thwarted by economic, legal, and social barriers. Even when there is enough food and people have access to it, their food security may be threatened by the safety of the food. What is the greatest challenge to food security? How can food security be improved in the face of a growing world population?
Journalism has undergone considerable changes with the expansion of the internet. This digital transformation expanded opportunities for people to share information. The immediacy of social media and the ability of anyone to post makes news available instantaneously but often means that not everything is well written, or accurately reported. All reporting is influenced to some extent by personal views or bias. The interests of corporate ownership often steer traditional journalism. What role do editing and fact-checking play in traditional and citizen journalism? How can individuals determine the reliability of sources?
Historic preservation is often regarded as protecting or preserving sites, buildings, structures, objects, or districts representing cultural, social, economic, political, archaeological, or architectural history. Yet environmental and political changes often threaten their preservation. Even designated UNESCO world heritage sites are threatened and sometimes destroyed. How might we find ways to preserve history, but also allow for future growth? How might the erasure of history, both social and physical, impact how future generations understand their past?