NAE Grand Challenges Project

Dan Burleson
University of Houston
Author Profile


The project requires a group of students to explore one of the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges using MATLAB as a tool. Students explore a grand challenge by researching data and performing computations to create a new tool or communicate our useful information to the user.

Learning Goals

Students should learn how to develop a specific goal and connect data to that goal. Students should learn how to develop an algorithm for investigating and using the data while being creative in the way the interact with the user. MATLAB is used a tool to explore the data and communicate out information about the grand challenge. Critical thinking and data analysis is key to this project. Several checkpoints require written reflection and the final submission is a poster and video presentation. Team work and non-technical presentation skills are developed through the project.

Context for Use

The project was designed for Freshman engineering students in groups of 3-5. It is a semester project that has multiple deadlines. Students continue to improve on the project as they develop more skills in MATLAB especially conditionals and loops. Since it is a semester long project done mostly outside of class, it is possible to include in many other settings. Some class time is encourage for feedback from the instructor or support staff. Prior to this project, students must understand different data types. Through out the semester, students should learn functions, conditionals, and loops that allow for computations that move through data sets and allow for interaction with the user.

Description and Teaching Materials

The project is introduced and students self-select into groups based on the challenge they are interested in pursuing. After introducing the topics from the grand challenges website, have student group by the sign of the NAE grand challenge they would like to pursue. Before each checkpoint, time is provided in class for students to work in their groups and ask questions. The Project General Description is given to all students.
Project General Description (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 44kB Oct3 17)
NAE Grand Challenge Signs (Acrobat (PDF) 8.1MB Oct3 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips

A lot of success has been found working with the library or resources on campus to support students in their search for data about their topic. Involving faculty and research that would be willing to provide data is also extremely beneficial.


There are rubrics for each deadline that assess each deadline. Most groups are expected to show improvement on each deadline and have a working and intriguing product for their final submission.

References and Resources - Description of the Engineering Grand Challenges