White House Musters 'Grand' Science and Tech Ideas via Twitter, Facebook

Deadline looms Thursday, April 15, for Grand Challenges of the 21st Century.

by / April 13, 2010

Send a manned mission to Mars. Create electric conversion kits for gas vehicles. Cure addictions and eradicate cancer. However futuristic, lofty or realistic the aforementioned goals are, the government is seeking such ambitious science and technology notions.

Incorporating Twitter, Facebook and e-mail, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Economic Council recently launched a program dubbed "Grand Challenges of the 21st Century," which aims to solicit the knowledge and future-thinking ways of the public.

Specifically policymakers want ideas on the following:

  • What's the next moon shot or the next human genome sequencing?
  • What are the ambitious goals that are going to generate jobs, improve security, drive innovation or inspire students to learn? 
  • How do we get our best minds to work on solving these challenges?

In concert with Expert Labs -- a project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science -- the OSTP will make responses publicly available, said Expert Labs project director Gina Trapani. "The data set will be available for public analysis, and many academics and technologists have indicated an interest in creating presentations and visualizations of it," she wrote.

Trapani also heads development of Think Tank, a technology platform that is aiding the White House in gathering responses to the challenge. While there isn't a final number (the deadline for submissions is Thursday, April 15), Trapani said there have been several hundred responses so far.

"I am delighted by the level of enthusiasm and excitement that has recently grown around the concept of grand challenges, and the chance to build on some fantastic work that has already been done," OSTP Deputy Director for Policy Thomas Kalil wrote in a February blog.

In what appears to be a last-minute push for more public feedback, the OSTP announced Tuesday, April 13, the use of Twitter as a medium to send ideas by replying to @whitehouse and including the #whgc hashtag. Several phone calls to an OSTP spokesman went unanswered.

Some of the ideas flowing in via Twitter include, "Solar power on all homes," "Internet everywhere, fastest in the world," "Honor NASA's goals and make them a reality, improve our planet, explore the stars, and inspire Americans to higher dreams."

Of course, some ideas are more practical than others: "Solar-powered Star Trek replicators to feed the world."



Karen Wilkinson

Karen is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.