Today, Al Gore gave a major speech where he offered a national challenge similar to that posed by President Kennedy back in the 1960s, where he called for the U.S. to put a man on the moon within a decade, even though there was no infrastructure and limited knowledge as to how to complete such a task in place. Gore called for America to get itself to an energy budget completely reliant on renewable energy sources within a decade. This is a tall order, and whether or not U.S. policymakers take up this or any similar challenge to lift our dependence on foreign oil, solving our energy problems will require innovation and our science and technology base's best efforts. Coincidentally, Gore's challenge is made just after a report from the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (BESAC) of the Department of Energy's Office of Science was released. The BESAC report identified five 'grand challenges' for the scientific establishment to take on in order to develop energy independence.
The five grand challenges revolve around the quantum world, and are listed as:
1) control material processes at the level of electrons;
2) design and perfect atom-and energy-efficient syntheses of new forms of matter with tailored properties;
3) understand and control the remarkable properties of matter that emerge from complex correlations of atomic and electronic constituents;
4) master energy and information on the nanoscale to create new technologies with capabilities rivaling those of living things;
5) characterize and control matter away - especially far away - from equilibrium.
In a future post, I will expand on what these challenges focus on.