January 08, 2018

Wanted: Bold ideas for Grand Challenge

Chris Brown INSIDEChris Brown, vice president for research, is looking for a problem that unites UAB expertise around a large-scale issue.Chris Brown is looking for a few good ideas. Make that a few good, big ideas. The kind so big that they’ll take a whole campus to realize.

Brown, UAB’s vice president for research, is leading a new initiative that arises from Forging the Future, the UAB Strategic Plan announced in November 2017. It’s called the UAB Grand Challenge. A grand challenge, Brown explains, is a problem that when solved will positively impact a great number of people and society in general. “It’s large in scope, resulting from complex causes, and solving it requires a combination of innovative approaches, technologies, treatments and policies,” he said.

The concept is taking hold at institutions across the country. The National Academy of Engineering has laid out 14 grand challenges for the profession in the 21st century, including preventing nuclear terror. At UCLA, faculty, staff and students are developing technologies, strategies and policies to make Los Angeles County 100 percent sustainable by 2050. A grand challenge at UAB might aim to make Birmingham the healthiest city in America, or tackle the complex of problems surrounding an aging society. But these are only examples, Brown is quick to note. The UAB Grand Challenge will be selected in a competition open to the entire university that kicks off in February.

A problem that unites

”Our faculty, staff and students have a rich history of serving society. The UAB Grand Challenge will build on that legacy and unite university activities around a pressing need, address it and solve it.”

“We’re looking for a problem that unites UAB expertise — including research, scholarship, teaching, commercialization, patient care and community service — around a large-scale issue,” Brown said. “It must be something that can be uniquely addressed by UAB, with stakeholders involved in the implementation from in and outside UAB, and a commitment to success at all levels.”

The Grand Challenge is not intended to replace or hinder individual or departmental activities, Brown notes. Instead, it offers a framework to help those activities expand, with substantial support provided by the UAB Strategic Investment Fund for three to five years; the expectation is that external support will provide long-term sustainability for the project.

Competition begins mid-February

An official announcement of opportunity will be released in mid-February 2018, to kick off the Grand Challenge process, which will conclude with a selection decision in early fall 2018. The process will include submission of a concept paper, pre-proposal, full proposal and invited presentations through the spring and summer. These will involve increasingly detailed conceptualizations of the plan of work, benefits to the people of Alabama and beyond, lists of potential team members, alignment to UAB strategic priorities and resourcing plans.

Brown has presented the Grand Challenge concept to several groups on campus, and will speak to town hall meetings and other venues. “Our faculty, staff and students have a rich history of serving society,” Brown said. “The UAB Grand Challenge will build on that legacy and unite university activities around a pressing need, address it and solve it.”

Learn more about the Grand Challenge, including an overview presentation, at uab.edu/plan/grand-challenge.