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Below we share key dates in the history of the UCLA Grand Challenges initiative from 2012 (initiation) to 2020. Please refer to the individual Grand Challenge websites for details of their timelines. 


  • March 2012: Michelle Popowitz & Jill (Sweitzer) Reddell pitch idea of new research initiative to VC Economou related to grand challenges.
  • April 23, 2012: APLU & White House OSTP convene conference call to ask universities to take on grand challenges. White House represented by Cristin Dorgelo & Tom Kalil. Michelle and Jill reach out to Cristin to learn more.
  • April 26, 2012: Cristin Dorgelo visits UCLA, which kicks off informal advising.
  • July 31, 2012: Michelle and Jill convene neuroscience working group to to identify potential Brain-related grand challenge. Three working groups formed: changing brain, working brain, & what is a memory. Each meets weekly Fall 2012 through January 2013.
  • October 2, 2012: At VC Economou's suggestion given enthusiasm of neuroscience workgroup participation, environment & sustainability working group convened to identify related grand challenge. Three working groups formed: thriving in a hotter, drier Los Angeles, safer alternatives and preserving biodiversity. Each meets routinely Fall 2012 through March 2013.


  • 2013: UCLA begins to share UCLA experience with other institutions exploring Grand Challenges and other research initiatives in one-on-one meetings, leadership meetings, and at various professional organizations. This activity continues through present day.
  • April 2, 2013: UCLA leaders (Chancellor Gene Block, VCR Jim Economou, & Neuroscience Theme Lead Kelsey Martin) invited to White House for the launch of the BRAIN Initiative. UCLA included due to OSTP awareness of UCLA focus on neuroscience-related grand challenge. Two other UCLA faculty members (Paul Weiss & Anne Andrews) invited as well due to their involvement with brain mapping activity project which helped informed aspects of the BRAIN Initiative. 
  • November 13, 2013: UCLA publicly reveals Sustainable LA Grand Challenge with high profile event. 


  • Spring 2014: Recruitment of first cohort for the year-long Grand Challenges Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. First-ever Grand Challenges class and research experience.


  • January 2015: Collaborated with Chancellor Gene Block on Fiat Lux course: "Grand Challenges –Inspiring Solutions to Humanity’s Greatest Problems." 
  • October 18, 2015: UCLA announces Depression Grand Challenge




  • Feb 13, 2018: UCLA releases Report on University-Led Grand Challenges and launches community of practice
  • March 2018: UCLA joins APLU workgroups which ultimately produce recommendation on Public Impact-focused Research (PIR)--a framework that celebrates all work that might be so characterized. This activity continued through 2019. An output of this workgroup was a typology matrix to help describe various research initiatives with consideration of the specific audience.
  • April 29 - May 1, 2018: External Review of the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge. Reviewers: Marina Alberti (Univ of Washington); Peter Backlund (Colorado State Univ); Christopher Boone (Arizona State Univ); Fred Cate (Indiana Univ); Richard Desjardins  (UCLA Academic Senate); Dave Dzombak (Carnegie Mellon Univ); & Soroosh Sorooshian (UC Irvine).  


  • March 17-20, 2019: External Review of the Depression Grand Challenge. Reviewers: Judson Caskey (UCLA Academic Senate); Fred Cate (Indiana Univ); Steven Hollon (Vanderbilt); Matthew Hotopf (King's College); Mustafa Husain (UT Southwestern); Rob Malenka (Stanford). 


  • July 1, 2020: In recognition of ongoing operational needs and the determination not to launch any new grand challenges in the near future, UCLA formally creates standalone departments for the Depression Grand Challenge and the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, which each reporting into the Office of Research & Creative Activities. The UCLA Grand Challenges brand is sunsetted as a standalone program. 

View Depression Grand Challenge Timeline

View Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Timeline