How can engineering research help to solve global problems?

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How can engineering research help to solve the world’s most pressing problems?


Engineering encompasses a wide range of different disciplines, from chemical engineering to mechatronics. Linking this diverse field is the desire to use scientific and technological knowledge to change our physical world in useful ways. Most of us want the change that we cause to be positive, but how do we go about maximising our positive impact as engineers?

Historically, engineering research has gone hand-in-hand with invention and innovation, and often transforms society. Examples include: Fritz Haber and the Haber-Bosch process that produces the fertiliser that supports more than half the world’s population today (but also not forgetting his role in developing chemical weapons); Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his designs that revolutionised public transportation and modern civil engineering; and Hedy Lamarr and the “frequency hopping” technique she developed, which is used in modern wireless communication (such as WiFi).

Engineering research is pivotal for addressing the global problems we face today. In our research directions below we introduce several examples of problems that engineers could tackle that seem particularly important. Climate change may be the most familiar to engineers, and there are many under-explored opportunities for engineers to have an impact in this area. Researching sustainable and affordable technologies for the developing world could enable the world’s poorest people to raise their quality of life more quickly and sustainably. Engineering research into technologies to prevent pandemics and increase our resilience against them could potentially save millions of future lives. 

Engineering has always been a cornerstone of civilisation, and there are many ways it can contribute to making civilisation more resilient against all kinds of threats. There are many other pressing problems, such as animal suffering, that engineers can contribute to.

Writing a thesis focused on any of these pressing problems could help prepare you to do valuable and impactful work on these problems later in your career, whether you decide to stay in academia or go into industry.


Examples of work on some of the research directions we recommend

There are plenty of examples of recent work related to our the research directions below. Here are a few:

  • Research into resilient food solutions provides blueprints for how to keep people alive in the event of a global catastrophe that shocks the world’s food systems.
  • The Free Appropriate Sustainable Technology (FAST) research group explores how open-source hardware can drive the adoption of solar photovoltaic technology and resilient foods in the event of catastrophe.
  • This deep dive into cultivated meat bioprocess design from the Good Food Institute explores the current state of the research field.
  • This talk from Anemone Franz, Jasper Götting explores promising technical interventions against catastrophic biological risks.

Research agendas and potential sources of research questions

You can find many sources of research questions that an engineering student could tackle below:

Animal welfare

AI safety and governance

Biosecurity and pandemic preparedness

Other existential and global catastrophic risks

Human health and well-being

Other useful resources



This profile was published 25/02/2023. Thanks to Jessica Wen for creating this introduction and Lennart Heim for helpful feedback.

Explore our recommended research directions relating to engineering