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Top US science wonk wants Grand Challenges and 3D printers for the kids

But asks for curiosity driven jellyfish poking to continue too

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Challenging engineers to build a starship and giving school kids 3D printers were among several big ideas put out by a top US Government science wonk in a speech in Washington this morning.

Citing President Kennedy's challenge to put a man on the moon, Thomas Kalil, Deputy Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy said that incentive prizes had "a long history of catalysing breakthroughs".

He called on government departments and US companies to issue more Grand Challenges and to stump up for the big prizes for the scientists who solved them.

Listing off the big challenges of today, Kalil mentions NASA and DARPAs 100 year goal to plan a starship that could transport humans to another solar system, USAID's plan "All Children Reading" and the Founders Fund challenge to reduce the cost of a space launch by ten.

But it's not just billionaires, big business and boffins who have their part to play. The media and Hollywood need to pep up the popular perception of science said Kalil. "What could Hollywood and our creative talent to do help make engineers and entrepreneurs the rock stars of the 21st century?" he asked.

Give the kids 3D printers!

Other initiatives in his speech revolved around education - getting children to learn in new ways and with new tools. Using the language of Mozilla Foundation hackers and techies he said children need to become "makers"

And he urged teachers to give kids access to tools like 3D printers.

We also have an exciting opportunity to give every child the ability to become a Maker and to have the experience of designing and building something that they find personally meaningful to them [...] new technologies such as 3-D printing, low cost machine tools, and open-source hardware are enabling personal fabrication. These tools and interaction with the Maker community could significantly increase the number of students who get interested in STEM

Though despite the big push on goal-driven science, at the beginning of his speech, Kalil made a token gesture towards curiosity-led research, admitting that not all discoveries come from hitting targets:

support for curiosity-driven research is critical, both because expanding the frontiers of human knowledge is an end in itself, and because it leads to benefits that we could never have predicted. Studying the bioluminescence of jellyfish does not sound very practical, but it led to the discovery of green fluorescent protein, a key tool in biological imaging

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Text of Kalil's speech: 'The Grand Challenges of the 21st Century'

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