Grand Challenges



Tackling critical problems at the edges of human endeavor

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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.

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Each initiative has a project plan in place. Teams are working toward meeting milestones.

Initiative Owner: Sharon Collinge

The Arizona Institute for Resilience (AIR) employs a solutions-focused approach to address the crises of climate and global environmental change, with focus on arid regions of the world. AIR integrates research and education across campus by enabling and incentivizing new collaborations that cross the breadth and depth of campus expertise. These collaborations work in partnership with external communities to identify challenges and build solutions that foster human and natural resiliency at local to global scales. AIR is aiming for global recognition as a leader in solutions-based resilience applications and supports 15 programs targeting specific, resilience-related topics; strategic initiative funding supports a subset of them. 

Launch Date: 11/18/2019
End SIF Funding: 6/30/2024

Strategic Initiatives Fund FY24 Budget: $350,000

Initiative Owner: Janko Nikolich

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.

Launch Date: 7/1/2021
End SIF Funding: 6/30/2024

Strategic Initiatives Fund FY24 Budget: $1,500,000

Initiative Owner: Todd Vanderah

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.

Launch Date: 12/20/2019
End SIF Funding: 6/30/2024

Strategic Initiatives Fund FY24 Budget: $112,000

Initiative Owner: Janko Nikolich

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.

Launch Date: 3/10/2020
End SIF Funding: 6/30/2024

Strategic Initiatives FY24 Budget: $750,000

Up and Running

The goal/vision of each initiative has been operationalized.

Initiative Owner: Tim Swindle
Co-owner: John O'Neil

The University of Arizona annually ranks #1 in space science funding nationally. To maintain that success, we will need to improve our infrastructure by establishing an Arizona Space Sciences Center with a Project Design and Management group of project managers, engineers and finance experts capable of designing major projects and an enhanced Proposal Preparation group, and by building facilities that can accommodate the major projects we need to undertake. The Arizona Space Sciences Center Project Design and Management group will provide a mechanism for UA to retain the best project managers, engineers, and mission finance experts.

Launch Date: 02/25/2020
End SIF Funding: 6/30/2023

Initiative Owner: Tim Swindle
Co-owner: John O'Neil

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.

Launch Date: 01/24/2020
End SIF Funding: 6/30/2023

Initiative Owner: Saikat Guha

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.

Initiative Owner: Barney Maccabe

The Institute for Computation and Data-Enabled Insight is a transdisciplinary effort to bring together student and faculty researchers from across campus, all working to unlock new research solutions and accelerate breakthrough discoveries using the power of information technologies. By integrating data, networking and computing, researchers can target today's most complex and pressing challenges, including precision health care, cyberspace security, and climate resilience. ICDI prioritizes workforce development, faculty/student research, experiential learning opportunities, and helping grow Arizona’s industry and economy.

Initiative Owner: Joe Watkins

UA will integrate network science with data and computing science, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, and IoT—but also to consider social, ethical, and legal questions. To ensure the nexus between research and education is captured, we will mobilize researchers across disciplinary boundaries who share a passion for data science; deepen our partnerships with both industry and government agencies; and challenge students at all degree levels to explore new, innovative domains of expertise. Visit to learn more about this initiative.

Launch Date: 7/1/2020
End SIF Funding: 6/30/2022

Initiative Owner: Jennifer Barton

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.

Launch Date: 12/20/2019
End SIF Funding: 6/30/2023


Initiative tasks were completed, allowing for next steps to commence.

Initiative Owner: Barbara Bryson
Co-owner: Andrew Comrie

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 AIRES (initiative 2.2A).

Launch Date: 04/09/2019
End SIF Funding: 6/30/2020

Initiative Owner: Carol Barnes
Co-owner: Meredith Hay

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. Visit for more information.

Launch Date: 2/25/2020
End SIF Funding: 6/30/2020

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