Published: Sept. 19, 2017

Satellite hovering above the Earth

The cross-campus Grand Challenge initiative this week announced the selection of three new additions to the Grand Challenge portfolio starting this fall. The call for proposals, which was announced in June, funded one large research initiative at approximately $1 million per year and two smaller projects at $250,000 per year, each for at least three years.  

The selections augment the current Grand Challenge portfolio, building on the accomplishments of Earth LabIntegrated Remote and In Situ Sensing (IRISS), the university's space minor and the Center for the Study of Origins

“These projects are the epitome of impacting humanity, leading in innovation and developing tomorrow's leaders,” said Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano. "They combine our strengths with inspiration, innovation and world-class faculty and researchers."

Winning Proposals

Space Weather

The new “initiative-level” selection, Space Weather Technology, Research and Education Center, features collaboration between Jeff Thayer (Aerospace Engineering Sciences), Dan Baker (Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, or LASP), Cora Randall (Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences) and Nils Halverson (Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences).

This proposal seeks to establish CU Boulder as the world’s leading university in space weather by establishing the Space Weather Technology, Research and Education Center (SWx TREC). Space weather poses a significant threat to humans working in space, modern ground-based technological systems, satellite operations and observations, communications, navigation, airline operations and more, which results in significant societal, economic, national security and health impacts. CU Boulder already houses many leading researchers, educators and technology developers in space weather. The state of Colorado is a national hub for space weather activities, including partners at the High Altitude Observatory (NCAR), the Space Weather Prediction Center (NOAA), the National Solar Observatory (NSF) and a number of industry partners, such as Ball Aerospace and Lockheed Martin.

Nature, Environment, Science & Technology (NEST) Studio for the Arts

A project-level addition, “Nature, Environment, Science & Technology (NEST) Studio for the Arts,” is led by Erin Espelie (Critical Media Practices and Film Studies) and Tara Knight (Critical Media Practices).

NEST is a network of faculty, students, centers and campus units that combine artistic practice and scientific research to explore our common and disparate ways of observing, recording, experimenting and knowing. A series of cross-campus initiatives will allow students to directly engage with faculty mentors and inspire alternate modes of communicating with the larger public.

To facilitate undergraduate learning, NEST will work with faculty to showcase existing courses and develop curriculum that engages these central questions, operating upon a "nested" model that scales from the microscopic to the cosmic.

Magnetic CubeSat Constellation for Advanced Navigational Models

Another project-level selection, “Magnetic CubeSat Constellation for Advanced Navigational Models,” will be directed by Robert Marshall (Aerospace Engineering Sciences).

This project leverages the combined expertise of CU Boulder’s Ann and H.J. Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department, CIRES Geomagnetism Team and Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) for the development, construction, testing and flight of the first ever CubeSat dedicated to the efficient and economical collection of high-resolution magnetic field data.

Enthusiastic Response to Call for Proposals

According to Director of Strategic Projects Dr. Emily CoBabe-Ammann, the response to the call for proposals was “fantastic,” resulting in the submission of six initiative-level proposals and 18 project-level proposals. Proposals were evaluated by the Grand Challenge Review Panel comprised of both internal and external members, including academic, industry and government perspectives. The evaluation was based on the following criteria: innovation­, transforming our campus, sustainability and impact. Recommendations were then submitted to Grand Challenge and university leadership for final endorsement.

“This call for proposals was exceptional not only because of the outstanding projects we were able to add to the Grand Challenge portfolio, but because a number of submissions not selected were identified by the review team as worthy of further investment outside of this Grand Challenge selection round,” said CoBabe-Ammann.

PIs for these projects have been encouraged to continue dialog with Grand Challenge and Research & Innovation Office (RIO) leadership to further develop the projects and explore additional opportunities for collaboration, funding and support.

About the Grand Challenge

CU Boulder’s Grand Challenge, launched in September 2014, is the university’s response to President Obama’s nationwide call for companies, research universities, foundations and philanthropists to pursue the Grand Challenges of the 21st Century, “ambitious but achievable goals that harness science, technology, and innovation to solve important national or global problems and that have the potential to capture the public’s imagination.”

The Grand Challenge: “Our Space, Our Future” fuses CU Boulder’s unique strengths in earth, space and social sciences with new technologies and partners to address the pace and pattern of changes for our environment, our resources and our planet.

Questions? Please email Emily CoBabe-Ammann at