Dmitry Leyko (OC 2011–2016) Global Grand Challenges Summit

The engineering community today has grown to unimaginable proportions, specialising in all sorts of fields ranging from jet engine designers to microchip specialists to software engineers. However more and more of those engineers have switched focus from general problems that we as a humans face to just increasing their profits by making products that some people want but not everyone needs.

This is why the United Nations have created 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a target year of 2030 to achieve such aims as “Gender Equality” and “Affordable and Clean Energy” throughout the world. Some of these goals can be solved by teams of engineers working from everywhere in the world, this is where Global Grand Challenges Summit (GGCS) comes in. GGCS is a combined effort of the National Academy of Engineering in the US, Chinese Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK. From the beginning it was designed for engineers from around the world to come together and discuss their work in achieving the SDGs.

More importantly, the organisers provide a platform for young engineers in education, like myself, to participate in the summit.

At the conference the leading engineers in their fields held talks on how to advance goals set by UN, and what young engineers can do to progress in those fields and one day help the world become sustainable. To make sure that the students, who got through to the summit, used it to its full potential the academies held a competition “Engineering a Better World”. There students got to create projects over 5 months that attempted to solve one or more of the SDGs and present it in a 5 minute pitch to the judges. This is where our story begins.

Old Caterhamians, Caterham School, Dimitri Leyko, Global grand Challenges Summit

With a couple of friends from the course we have decided to enter this competition. After brainstorming for some ideas we realised that we all had a common interest in preserving the environment. This is when we decided to focus on “Climate Action” and “Life on Land” SDGs. After hours of developing the idea, two rounds of competition and workshops ran by the Royal Academy of Engineering, it was time to showcase the project at the judging panel. Unfortunately we have not gone through the main competition, but an additional poster contest has allowed us to still progress to the summit, all expenses paid, including the trip to Washington D.C.

As such an amazing opportunity opened up to us we decided to use it as much as possible. At the summit we had an honour representing UCL among hundreds of other universities from China, US and UK. Our proposal on Combating Climate Change by Carbon Capture with autonomous tree planting mechanism has gotten a lot of attention from many other undergraduates and graduates. What has surprised us even more, at the summit we were the only all first year team from any university that attended, and in general the number of first year students attending was very small. At GGCS we were able to listen to talks of experts in the field of virtual and augmented reality, global warming, brain mapping and machine learning. One of the more memorable talks was a discussion with an entrepreneur and a member of House of Lords Martha Lane Fox, where she covered how policy making for engineering projects is not advancing at the same rate as the technology is progressing.

Throughout the summit we have gained a lot of insight into engineering with planet Earth in mind, had great talks by leaders in all sort of industries, and most importantly we were able to socialise with other student engineers

I advise all future engineers to take every opportunity and get as much as possible from it, and to focus on human development, not money.