In zijn rede tijdens de Dies van de TUDelft bracht Vest in dat verband de volgende kerngedachten naar voren. “Broadly speaking, we are moving from the 20th century that was dominated by physics, electronics, and high-speed communication and transportation into the 21st century whose early decades will emphasize biology and information and also bring grand challenges such as energy, water, and sustainability.
Expertise and investment in R&D are spreading more uniformly around the world. The pace of technological change is accelerating, and the Internet and World Wide Web have “flattened” the world. Small and medium-sized companies account for most job creation, and in the most developed nations, jobs are rapidly moving into the service sector. Larger corporations increasingly acquire innovation, talent, and operations through worldwide open interchange with other companies and institutions.
Research universities face challenges to educate students appropriately for the new century and to lead and contribute the discovery of new knowledge and technologies. They must work at two frontiers of engineering: the Bio/Nano/Info Frontier and the Macrosystems frontier.
The Bio/Nano/Info Frontier explores and develops things that are becoming smaller, faster, and more complex. At this frontier engineering and natural science have merged to develop new materials, processes, and systems by integrating nano-scale physical science, biology, and information technology.
At the Macrosystems Frontier, engineering research and projects must address the great human challenges of energy, climate change, water, healthcare, urbanization, manufacturing, communications, and logistics. These areas also are highly interdisciplinary because engineering must be integrated with social science, management, and humanities. Very important work will bridge from the Bio/Nano/Info Frontier to the Macrosystems Frontier through applications such as bio-based materials, biomemetics, personalized medicine, and biofuels.
Higher education must make innovative uses of digital technologies to share scholarly resources and educational content worldwide. Free or inexpensive digital archives and the open educational content movement stimulated in large part by MIT’s OpenCoureWare initiative are creating a Meta University. This can become a transcendent, communally constructed framework of open materials and platforms on which much of higher education can be built or enhanced. This can raise quality, gain cost efficiencies through sharing, and be especially helpful to developing countries.”