The Green Revolution, a combination of genetic research and more intensive farming practices, brought enormous growth in food production over two decades beginning in the mid-1960s. It is credited with sparing millions from starvation, but not without cost. A study by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that “unintended consequences in water use, soil degradation, and chemical runoff have had serious environmental impacts.” With the world’s population expected to climb to 10 billion by 2050, what new strategies will be found to feed the planet? An intriguing possibility is indoor farming in urban high-rises, the topic of this issue’s cover story by Tom Gibson. Promoted by a now retired professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University, Dickson Despommier, a number of so-called vertical farms have cropped up around the world. Skeptics doubt they’ll make a profit growing anything other than high-end salad greens, but engineering researchers may prove them wrong.
With the population of U.S. high schoolers declining and becoming more diverse, a profession made up disproportionately of white men (think engineering) needs to rethink recruitment. Mary Lord examines one promising new trend: high school-college partnerships. A major obstacle for aspiring engineers is that the first year of college is too late for the requisite preparation in science and math. A magnet program on North Carolina State University’s campus supplies traditionally underserved students with that preparation via a project-rich curriculum based on the National Academy of Engineer’s Grand Challenges. It also goes a big step further, allowing them to earn college credit starting in their junior year of high school. Such programs, together with a proposed advanced engineering course for high schools, may limit the demographic damage.
One place where more engineers will be needed soon is Mount Pleasant, Wis., site of a giant Foxconn plant lured to the state with the promise of billions of dollars in subsidies. Chriss Swaney talks to a few of the state’s leading engineering schools to find out what the arrival of the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer means for them.
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