ERC Grand Challenges Network

The German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was widely acknowledged as the last “universal man” – a person who had at his disposal a grasp of all the world’s knowledge. A stretch then and harder by the day from that time forward. Our own age has seen an explosion of experts and thinkers in hundreds of disciplines, most of them unknown in the age of von Humboldt. Each field is creating huge amounts of specialized knowledge, which ricochets instantly all around the world. Not even he could begin to make sense of it.

The conundrum of attempting to make meaning of this vast array of knowledge at a critical time on our planet - while not becoming overwhelmed or distracted - has become paramount.

A project led by the Smithsonian Institute identified four new consortia that are attempting to organize and energize inter-disciplinary efforts to stimulate intellectual exchange among universities, governments, and non-profit organizations.

These four “Grand Challenges” provide a case for a more compelling curriculum and an approach that unleashes students' natural curiosity, their desire to address and solve problems, their quest for answers, justice, and fairness, and a better world. They are:

Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe

Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet

Valuing World Cultures

Understanding the American Experience


The ERC Grand Challenges Network seeks to... 

  • Generate trajectories of learning that invite students to pursue the creation of knowledge

  • Provide regular provocations for reflection, project design, and activism (through email and website)

  • Support educators as they leverage the power of the Grand Challenges in their classrooms and schools

ERC Grand Challenges Provocations