There is currently a lot of excitement within the science and space community about the decade long, 300 million mile journey of the Rosetta spacecraft successfully reaching Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and deploying its landing vehicle Philae, which has now stabilised on the surface of the comet.
When we consider that 300 years ago the British Government by an act of Parliament set up the Longitude Prize to solve the problem of how sailors would know their exact coordinates at sea to try and stem the numerous deaths that were occurring from inaccurate navigation, it becomes apparent just how far we’ve come.
From the modest chronometer created by self-educated clockmaker John Harrison winning the Longitude prize in 1765 to the great minds at the European Space Agency’s scientific and technological marvels in space, our exploration has expanded beyond safely navigating our world to the stars. Where will this take us in another 300 years?
One of the wonderful things about these innovations is the genuine fascination that it engenders in the general public, especially among the young. Consider those young people who have been inspired by the likes of the moon landings that have gone on to be the great minds behind our current interstellar achievements.
Consider also the range of technology that has been made accessible to the general public as a result of these endeavours, like satellite TV, precision timing, navigational mapping and global imaging from space on a scale that we’ve never had before – but industry doesn’t stand still and these achievements are likely to seem trite in a few years’ time.
Finding ways to inspire the next generation of inventors, designers, engineers and explorers to develop the skills required for the 21st Century and imagine a world beyond our current comprehension is imperative to the success of UK Industry.
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects are identified as being critical to the future industrial competitiveness of the UK and are of strategic importance to the nation due to increased competition from rapidly advancing economies around the world. In the 2011 report ‘The Plan for Growth', the Government pronounced STEM education as the foundation of future economic success.
In 2012, the Chancellor identified satellites as one of the eight great technologies where the UK could take the lead on the world stage. 40 per cent of small world’s satellites are already produced in the UK and the mission to land on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko relies on British expertise and highlights the growing importance of the UK's space industry.
With the 300 anniversary of the original Longitude Prize, the launch of Longitude 2014 and our awe inspiring achievements in space, what better time to spark the imagination of young people by setting them their own challenge to use information generated from satellites to create new products, technologies and services that will have a positive impact on the issues that they care about.
Nesta’s Longitude Explorer prize is a challenge for 11-16 year olds that does just that.
We want young people to be inspired by the latest applications enabled by satellite technologies, like smart watches, Google maps, tracking devices and mobile phones to explore what they could do to improve the world around them. They will be able to apply their imaginations to new and interesting solutions to issues like personal safety, the environment and new ways of approaching education.
The aim of the prize is to provide a practical education opportunity which links young people to the history of the longitude prize while supporting them to develop their scientific and technological skills to enhance their learning and future prospects.
A recent study found that the majority of 10-14 year olds in England enjoyed and were interested in science; however, only 17 per cent of these children aspired to a STEM career.
Over the last decade, the UK has experienced a marked decrease in the number of A-Level students taking mathematics, chemistry and physics. There is also a pronounced gender gap in the number of females taking science subjects and some ethnic minority groups attain significantly below the national average in science and mathematics subjects.
The Longitude Explorer Prize is a great way to engage a broad range of young people practically in STEM and harness the enthusiasm and intrigue generated by the likes of Rosetta-Philae and the advances in technology that they are experiencing on a daily basis to begin their own journeys of discovery in becoming the entrepreneurs and leaders of future industry.
The challenge is a staged process that takes place between November 2014 and October 2015, with support from a wonderful array of partners such as the UK space Agency, Satellite Applications Catapult, STEMNET, British Science Association and Ignite!
A prize of £25,000 will be awarded to the winning school or youth group and there will be individual prizes for the young participants and a number of great events where participants receive masterclasses and get to share their ideas.
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No doubt we’ll be excited and inspired by the ideas that young people will come up with.
Visit www.nesta.org.uk/longitude-explorer to find out more.
 Science and Innovation Investment Framework, 2004-2014
 DfE Reform of the National Curriculum, 2013