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About Grand Challenges

Complex Challenges — Innovative Solutions

Water scarcity. Poverty. Energy dependence. Global pandemics. Climate change. These complex and challenging environmental problems are broadly understood to be among the most pressing issues of the 21st century.

With a bold commitment to providing leadership and solutions for a globally connected world, the Grand Challenges Program is an ambitious and broadly inclusive University initiative designed to tackle complex and vexing global environmental problems by fully integrating the research and teaching missions of the University. The program engages faculty from disparate disciplines with postdoctoral fellows and students at all levels of the Princeton University community to examine the scientific, technical, public policy, and human dimensions of pressing environmental issues.

Program Leadership

The Grand Challenges Program was launched in 2007 as a collaboration involving the Princeton Environmental Institute, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Today more than 86 members of the faculty from 26 academic disciplines are participating in research and teaching cooperatives framed around global environmental issues in climate and energy, sustainable development in Africa, and global health and infectious disease. The research enterprise serves as the framework for an extensive association of scholars and supports innovative academic programming that involves students from across the University. The Program fosters a novel approach to developing solutions and a new generation of global leaders.

Grand Challenges Research

The Grand Challenges Program is principally organized around three interdisciplinary research cooperatives that are the foundation of an integrated strategy for developing solutions and leadership in climate and energy, sustainable development in Africa and global health and infectious disease.

Funding is available for faculty seeking to pursue Grand Challenges-based research and curriculum development and for students who wish to engage in Grand Challenges research and independent study with connections to targeted themes. Faculty seeking to redirect their research activities to address dimensions of the climate and energy, development, and health challenges may apply for seed funding as part of campus wide Call for Proposal process, administered annually.

Grand Challenges Education

The Grand Challenges Program provides multiple opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to develop their understanding of complex issues in climate and energy, development, and health themes. An extensive network of courses has been identified in each of the three focal themes including offerings within the natural sciences, engineering, social sciences, and humanities divisions. Course related fieldwork, hands on laboratory exercises, an extensive internship program, and support for independent field research are part of the Grand Challenges Program’s commitment to foster experiential learning and exposure to cutting edge research.


Grand Challenges
(2007-Present)

Campuswide Participation

  • 93 Princeton faculty from 29 academic units
  • 51 interdisciplinary research projects (including 49 seed projects)

Educational Innovations

  • 38 new courses
  • 614 undergraduate internships in 47 countries
  • 371 senior thesis research awards

Enhanced Graduate Education

  • 101 graduate students on research projects
  • 26 two-year fellowships for Ph.D. candidates
  • 51 Princeton Energy and Climate Scholars 


"The Grand Challenges program has catalyzed cross-department and interdisciplinary interactions that have enriched our research."

Margaret Martonosi
Professor, Electrical Engineering


Jonathan Hezghia

"The unique flexibility and immense support offered by the Grand Challenges program gives students an unparalleled opportunity to study an issue that is important to them and to contribute to finding a solution."

Johathan Hezghia '13
Economics Major