Sophomore Research Seminar (SRS)

Confronting Grand Challenges


Winter 2023

Professor Dr. Ashraf Ghaly, P.E.
Department Engineering
Office Olin 102D
Tel., email 518-388-6515, ghalya@union.edu

Lectures: TTH 9:00 AM - 10:45 AM, Olin 306.


Human progress from the stone age to the present revolution of information technology required overcoming an extraordinary array of countless grand challenges. The last century alone witnessed unthinkable engineering and scientific achievements that transformed people’s lives in an unimaginable way. The knowledge base presently in place, coupled with powerful computer and communication tools added to the desire to take on even more daunting grand challenges that, if tackled successfully, will have the potential to significantly alter the course of humanity.

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) compiled a list of formidable challenges considered to be of great importance to address in the present century. Some of these challenges are enhance virtual reality, reverse-engineer the brain, engineer better medicines, secure cyberspace, manage the nitrogen cycle, and develop carbon sequestration methods. As the world’s only universal global organization, the United Nations (UN) published a list of global issues that transcend national boundaries and cannot be resolved by any country acting alone. Some of these issues are population, poverty, food, health, water, energy, migration, security, and the environment. Despite the sharp contrast between the highly sophisticated list compiled by the NAE and the seemingly conventional list compiled by the UN, challenges remain a serious encounter hindering progress and development in various societies. As the NAE indicated, the ultimate goal of confronting both traditional and spectacular challenges is to improve life through four intersecting themes: sustainability, health, security, and joy of living. Although addressing grand challenges faces numerous roadblocks, the never-yielding and ever-aspiring human spirit has shown throughout history that it has always risen to the level of challenge. This course will study the circumstances surrounding past human achievements, and the aspects needed to take on greater challenges and inspire an accelerated move toward a brighter future.


93+ = A 89+ = A- 85+ = B+ 81+ = B 77+ = B- 73+ = C+ 69+ = C 65+ = C- 60+ = D



Singer, Lynette (2012). “Greatest Human Achievements,” A 3-part series exploring the, sometimes unlikely, milestones in the history of human endeavor that brought us to where we are today. Breakthroughs in the fields of medicine, natural sciences, engineering, technology, architecture and communications all feature in this informative and engaging journey across time and place.



Unit A
NAE’s List of the Greatest Engineering Achievements of the Twentieth Century

Unit B
UN Global Issues

Unit C
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

Unit D
The CERES Principles

Unit E
NAE’s List of the Grand Challenges of the Twenty First Century

RESEARCH PAPERS (Achieve, Goal, and Challenge)


  1. For research paper Achieve, students will be randomly assigned a unique topic from Unit A as a subject for their paper.
  2. For research paper Goal, students will be randomly assigned a unique topic from Unit C as a subject for their paper.
  3. For research paper Challenge, students will be randomly assigned a unique topic from Unit E as a subject for their term paper.


  1. Students may collect the materials (technical and non-technical) for their chosen project from one or more of the following sources (in no specific order): the Internet, publications, professional journals, magazines, textbooks, movies, documentaries, and all other credible sources including interviews with knowledgeable and experienced individuals.
  2. Students are required to cite in their paper all the sources they used in their research in the form of "References", "Bibliography", Works Cited", "Footnotes", or any standard method of citation. Internet sites are cited using the address (URL) of those sites. All other references are to be cited with the name of author, year, title of paper or book, page, and publisher.
  3. Students are responsible for checking the accuracy of materials obtained from Internet sources. Many Internet sources are not peer-reviewed and may lack credibility. Remember that in this day and age, any one can publish anything on the Internet. This does not qualify published materials to be worthy of an academic endeavor such as a term paper.


1. The following is the timeline for paper assignment and submission, and page limit:

Research Paper

Topic Assignment Date

Paper Submission Date

Min. & Max. Page Limit


2nd class of 1st week

9PM on Saturday before 4th week

5-7 pages of text & up to 10 pages with supplementing materials.


1st class of 4th week

9PM on Saturday before 7th week


1st class of 7th week

9PM on Saturday before 10th week

7-10 pages of text & up to 15 pages with supplementing materials.

2. Papers should be PDF or Word documents with page limits as stated above. The text font should be 12-point double-spaced Times-type with one-inch margin on all sides. In addition to the text, students may supplement their paper with photos, pictures, tables, graphs, charts, and figures. Any supplementing material must be referenced at least once in the text of the paper.

Paper Grading Criteria

The purpose of the Sophomore Research Seminar (SRS) is to train students on doing research on topics of importance and on documenting their findings. Students are expected to do methodical research into their topics and do in-depth written reporting on their discoveries. In addition to class discussion, which is intended to enrich and widen students’ perspective of research and how to approach it, students’ presentation of their final Challenge term paper will contribute to strengthening their ability to share research in a public forum and get the opportunity to answer questions and argue various issues with the instructor and other students in the class. With this in mind, the grade of research papers will be assigned based on the quality and depth of research, thought process, organization, relevance of content to the subject under consideration, understanding, clarity of presentation, and demonstration of ability to address questions with comprehension.


  1. Students will develop an ability to generate a thought process in approaching a research topic and investigate the aspects related to the issues under consideration.
  2. Students will learn how to look for information and sort through volumes of materials to spot the relevant data for the topic in question.
  3. Students will get training on writing research papers that are focused, accurate, precise, and enjoyable to read by a reader with limited or no background in the topic of research.
  4. Students will get the opportunity to appreciate that research is a continuous process that many researchers contribute to. A little contribution by many researchers is what creates progress and allows humanity to advance.
  5. Students will comprehend that research results on a specific topic are only a step toward a discovery. No serious researcher will ever develop a sense of finality about any research subject that has been previously investigated.
  6. Students will be provided with guidance in completing their research assignments to grow intellectually and professionally in order to be prepared for greater future endeavors.

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