Grand Challenges Are Moonshot Goals
To reach those goals and address the most urgent issues affecting our society, researchers from different disciplines must share knowledge, ask questions, and tear down academic barriers.
Bridging Barriers serves as an incubator for some of the boldest interdisciplinary projects at The University of Texas at Austin by supporting researchers from across the Forty Acres as they form broad teams tasked with identifying urgent, real-world issues — and figuring out the best way to solve them in less than a decade.
These projects are rooted in collaboration and academic freedom to produce practical solutions to social, environmental, and humanitarian crises. From artificial intelligence to social inequality, teams around campus are laying the groundwork today for what could become a UT Grand Challenge tomorrow.
“The toughest questions facing humanity and the world cross the boundaries of existing knowledge, and we must take an interdisciplinary approach to address them . . . Breakthroughs happen when we break down silos of knowledge. And we are doing that now.”
— President Gregory L. Fenves
A Brief History
In 2016, President Fenves introduced an initiative with one overarching mission: break down academic silos and foster research that addresses the toughest questions facing humanity and the world.
Like other grand challenge initiatives, Bridging Barriers brings researchers together from dozens of disciplines to address major issues affecting our world. But Bridging Barriers is unique in its origin: Every aspect of each project, from concept to kickoff, has been dreamed and designed by UT researchers and their graduate students.
Call for papers
UT researchers are asked to submit concept papers for topics that span all disciplines.
More than 800 researchers submit 125 concept papers, which are then organized into broad themes.
Multidisciplinary research teams are built around each theme, and each team identifies one unifying question to tackle.
Creating a plan
Each theme submits a 5-to-10-year plan for review.
First challenge: Sustainability
Vice President for Research Dr. Daniel Jaffe announces that the theme Planet Texas 2050 will be UT’s first grand challenge.
Second challenge: Childhood adversity
President Fenves introduces Whole Communities–Whole Health, UT’s second grand challenge, in his State of the University address.
Third challenge: Values-based AI
President Fenves introduces Good Systems, UT’s third and final grand challenge, in his State of the University address.
Grand Challenges at The University of Texas at Austin
Current campus-wide initiatives examine critical sustainability, health, and technology issues in our region.
Planet Texas 2050
Texas’ population could double by the year 2050. Extreme weather events will bring more floods, more droughts, and more heat. Our state’s resources can’t support those demands. Making Texas resilient is our grand challenge.
Whole Communities Whole Health
In Texas, many children live in poverty, suffer from chronic illness, or endure abuse and neglect. Despite years of targeted intervention, these issues persist. Changing the way science helps society thrive is our grand challenge.
Artificial intelligence is changing the way we live and work — often, for the better — but it has the potential to be harmful in ways we fail to predict. Designing AI technologies that benefit society is our grand challenge.
An Interdisciplinary Approach
Grand challenges bring researchers together from all disciplines to address urgent issues affecting our society. Our experts come from all corners of UT’s 40 acres, and beyond.