The Longitude Prize revived
Our guest blogger Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees is the Chair of the Longitude Committee.
It is 300 years since the Longitude Act of 1714, which offered a prize of £20,000 to anyone who could devise a method to accurately determine a ship’s position at sea. Among those on the committee who judged the merit of entries was the then serving Astronomer Royal.
History is repeating itself. In 2014, Britain is reconvening the historic Longitude Committee with a promised prize fund of £10 million, and as Astronomer Royal, I chair the revived committee.
There are a broad range of societal problems that demand fresh thinking and require us to galvanise a new generation of innovators to address them. This time round in a period of accelerating change, there is an equally important need to engage the public in the positive power of science to improve our lives.
So, this time the challenge to be addressed by the revived Longitude Prize 2014 will be decided not by government officials but by the public.
Through a rigorous process, engaging dozens of experts, as well as focus groups, we’ve identified six challenges for public consideration. Longitude Prize 2014 is launched this week on Horizon (Thursday 9pm, BBC2). We are asking the UK public to get engaged in shaping our future, through a text and online vote, anyone can influence which of these six challenges will become the focus of the Longitude Prize 2014. Below are the six to choose from:
Antibiotics have changed the face of healthcare for the better; they on average add 20 years to our lives. 80 years on from the discovery of penicillin, we are still unable to distinguish bacterial from viral infections, or the type of bacteria in the clinic, which has caused the overuse of antibiotics and the evolution of multidrug-resistant strains of bacteria.
The rapid growth of carbon emissions caused by air travel needs to be addressed to help tackle climate change. The potential of zero-carbon flight has been demonstrated but it has had little impact on the carbon footprint of the aviation industry, which still relies exclusively on fossil fuels. We need to bring novel technologies into the mainstream to stimulate a significant change.
Paralysis can emerge from a number of different injuries, conditions and disorders and the effects can be devastating. Every day can be a challenge when mobility, bowel control, sexual function and respiration are lost or impaired. We need to find a way to vastly increase the freedom of movement for people with paralysis.
An ageing population means more people are developing dementia and unfortunately there is currently no existing cure. This means there is a need to find ways to support a person’s dignity, physical and emotional wellbeing and extend their ability to live independently.
Water is a finite resource and we must seek to find ways of producing more fresh water. Some 98 per cent of the Earth’s water is too salty for drinking or agriculture and as water requirements grow and as our reserves shrink, many are turning to desalination. However, the current desalination technology isn’t optimal for small-scale use.
The world’s population is growing, getting richer and moving to cities. Current estimates suggest that by 2050 there will be about nine billion people on the planet; moreover our tastes will have turned to more resource-hungry foods such as meat and milk. In the face of limited resources and climate change, we must learn how to feed the world with less.
I hope that the Longitude Prize 2014 will stimulate wide interest, as well as encouraging inventors and innovators.
Please watch the show and cast your vote to decide which of these challenges you would like to see as the subject of Longitude Prize 2014.