Grand Challenges

Pillar 2: Grand Challenges

Tackling Critical Problems at the Edges of Human Endeavor

Pillar Owners: John O'Neil and Brian Erstad

Consistent with our dual mandate to expand educational opportunities and address important societal challenges, we are well positioned to fully leverage the 4IR advancements in our existing strengths in research. The strategic plan tackles pressing grand challenges in the areas of space, human and intelligent systems, natural and built environments, health care technology, and disease prevention and treatment in ways that will fundamentally shape the future.

View Pillar 2 Spring 2021 Updates

    # initiative owner co-owner osi consultant 
2.1A The University of Arizona Space Institute Tim Swindle John O'Neil Jessica Thornburg 
The University of Arizona annually ranks #1 in space science funding nationally. To maintain that success, we will need to improve our infrastructure by continuing to build the University of Arizona Space Institute (UASI). UASI will be a complex, multidisciplinary effort to develop a framework to support the activities of multiple University of Arizona stakeholders by supporting project development and proposal preparation, mentoring new Principal Investigators, and establishing and maintaining a network of technical capabilities available campus-wide. Visit to learn more about this initiative.
Spring 2021 Update
Launch Date: 02/25/2020
Strategic Initiatives Fund FY22 Budget: $1,000,000
2.1D Defending Our Planet Tim Swindle John O'Neil Jessica Thornburg
Space is congested, contested and competitive. Our goal is to retain University of Arizona's leadership in developing space technologies that would monitor and protect planet Earth from man-made and natural space threats. UA will be the lead university to discover a majority of all hazardous near-Earth asteroids larger than 140 meters that are capable of destroying cities and create the first non-military catalog of all artificial objects larger than 20 centimeters in geostationary orbit to safeguard our nation's security using a next generation autonomous ground-based survey telescope network in combination with space-based telescopes.
Spring 2021 Update
Launch Date: 01/24/2020
Strategic Initiatives Fund FY22 Budget: $2,000,000

Arizona Institutes for Resilience (AIR)

Jim Buizer   Jessica Thornburg
We are setting out to be a top ten ranked environmental university in the world. To achieve this goal we must not only excel in research on the natural and built environment but also lead in teaching, public service/community impact (i.e., land-grant), and creating a sustainable campus. We will realize this integrated vision by creating an innovative cross-cutting administrative leadership unit (a "virtual college") that serves, coordinates and promotes all environmentally-oriented people and programs on campus, and which capitalizes on and develops the UA's environmental brand by strengthening the Institute of the Environment or establishing a College of the Environment. Visit to learn more about this initiative.
Spring 2021 Update
Launch Date: 11/18/2019
Strategic Initiatives Fund FY22 Budget: $800,000
2.2D2  Start up of Building a Changing World Barbara Bryson Andrew Comrie OSI Team
The UA strives to be the first university to develop a robust university-wide ecosystem supporting research, teaching, and service for the built environment, defining a new fully integrated discipline leveraging knowledge and research from all UA colleges. This capacity development effort will be built upon existing strengths such as public policy, environmental sciences, transportation, optical sciences, management, planning, data sciences, public health, geography, and materials. Workshops and symposiums were held in 2020 and 2021 resulting in the founding of RESTRUCT grand challenges and interdisciplinary research seed funding initiatives. Visit to learn more about RESTRUCT, now part of Arizona Institutes for Resilience (initiative 2.2A).
Launch Date: 04/09/2019
2.3D  Aegis Consortium Janko Nikolich   Jessica Thornburg
Aegis Consortium will create partnerships and programs that will mitigate COVID-19 effects at all levels as well as predict and prepare for the next pandemic. The Consortium will comprehensively address gaps in pandemic preparedness across human experience, ranging from virology and immunology, via communications and policy to behavior, economy, and built and natural environments. To address these gaps, the Consortium will create partnerships across universities, foundations, non-profit entities, government agencies, and industry and will ultimately create a world free from pandemics.
Strategic Initiatives Fund FY22 Budget: $2,000,000
2.4A  Quantum Technologies and Convergence in the 4IR Nasser Peyghambarian   OSI Team
This initiative brings together researchers from engineering, science, social sciences, humanities, law and business to a common space to investigate social impacts of quantum technologies and intelligent systems on human behavior, cyber security, privacy, hacking, and the effects of these technologies on people to people connections, communication, environment, computing, sensing, creation of jobs and trade. This initiative is envisioned to become a focal point for strategic thinking and creative innovation in quantum science and engineering.
2.5A1 Data Science Academy Joe Watkins   Jessica Thornburg
The Data Sciences Academy initiative will support a university-wide endeavor to coordinate and lead in all areas of the data sciences and all aspects of university research, education, and outreach. Our foci are to jump start collaborative teams of investigators and their graduate students, to provide professional development opportunities to those presently in the workforce, to bring undergraduate data scientists to cutting edge research activities, to create a community of K-14 educators who integrate data driven methods of inquiry, and to introduce present and future University of Arizona students to effective career pathways that incorporate data science into their education. Visit to learn more about this initiative.
Spring 2021 Update
Launch Date: 7/1/2020
Strategic Initiatives Fund FY22 Budget: $300,000
UAHS 2.1 Access to Precision Health for All Myra Muramoto   OSI Team
We will build upon our precision health biorepository research programs by creating a Transdisciplinary Center to Advance Precision Health. The center will provide a broad-based and sustainable infrastructure to connect, enable and support transdisciplinary approaches to precision health across research, education, community engagement and services to develop preventative approaches for sustained wellness, earlier diagnoses and tailored treatments at individual and population levels to meet challenges of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
UAHS 2.3 Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center Todd Vanderah   Julia White
To address the opioid epidemic and chronic pain associated with our aging population, the Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center (CPAC) will help expand successful preclinical pain and addiction research by adding professionals in addiction medicine, clinical research and clinical trials. In partnership with university colleges and departments, CPAC will create a new drug discovery program (Pharmacy and chemistry/biochemistry), take on a statewide education and legislation mission on substance abuse (Public Health), and develop novel technology in helping predict and prevent patients with substance abuse liability (Engineering). CPAC will facilitate more effective communications and promote collaboration between clinician and researchers. The creation of this center will improve the University’s ability to secure both federal and industry grants, clinical revenues, and engage and educate Arizonans.
Spring 2021 Update
Launch Date: 12/20/2019
Strategic Initiatives Fund FY22 Budget: $224,000
UAHS 3.1A Precision Aging Network Pilot Study Carol Barnes Meredith Hay Julia White
We will develop a strong scientific foundation for the essential knowledge needed to match cognitive health span with human lifespan. Specifically, this initiative will help to understand the neurological changes that occur during normal aging and the links to environmental and genetic factors that drive exceptional cognitive health span, e.g., mapping cognitive outcomes to genotypes and lifestyle, and utilizing big data techniques and community-based participatory research to determine optimal individual wellness plans.
Spring 2021 Update
Launch Date: 2/25/2020
UAHS 4.1 Personalized Defense Janko Nikolich   Jessica Thornburg
Personalized Defense addresses issues related to infection, immunity and inflammation caused by microorganisms. We will work toward establishing collaboration channels between different university departments, institutes and centers by creating an Immune-Microbe Interface in Health and Disease (IMIHD) interest group. IMIHD will incentivize faculty by granting additional resources to hire more postdocs, jump-start collaborations, support microbiome infrastructure and position Arizona as a revolutionary real-time point of care leader for inflammatory diseases.
Spring 2021 Update
Launch Date: 3/10/2020
Strategic Initiatives FY22 Budget: $1,500,000
UAHS 5.1 Advanced Technologies in Healthcare Jennifer Barton   Julia White
We will connect researchers across health sciences disciplines and beyond to develop an array of technologies and digital solutions like wearable sensors for disease monitoring and other health applications. Cross-discipline team meetings will occur in a Design Center as we create structural incentives for innovation. Visit to learn more about this initiative.
Spring 2021 Update
Launch Date: 12/20/2019
Strategic Initiatives Fund FY22 Budget: $140,000 (budget consolidated with the budget for Strategic Initiatives UAHS 5.1A and UAHS 5.1B)

Grand Challenges