THE BLOG
20/05/2014 07:48 BST | Updated 19/07/2014 06:59 BST

What's Your Longitude?

Are you caring for someone with dementia? Or worry about air travel contributing to climate change? Or want everyone to have access to safe and clean water? Or how we are going to tackle the growing resistance to antibiotics? These major issues which touch many of our lives are some of the problems Longitude Prize 2014 seeks to address.

Longitude Prize 2014 is a challenge with a 10 million pound prize fund to help contribute to solving one of the world's greatest issues. It has been designed and incubated by Nesta - the UK's innovation foundation. Over the last two years we have worked with the Astronomer Royal Martin Rees to bring together an illustrious committee of scientists, thinkers and entrepreneurs - including David Rowan, editor of Wired; Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical advisor; and Imran Khan, Chief Executive, British Science Association - to help define and shape the prize.

We have also worked closely with over 100 academics and specialists to home in the challenge areas to ensure they are robust and credible. In the coming months we will be working with more people to finalise the prize design and the criteria for the winning challenge area will be released in September.

The prize has attracted a good deal of interest and attention so far. The Technology Strategy Board is our launch funding partner and it's been great to get such positive and practical support from the BBC and the National Maritime Museum.

Longitude Prize 2014 commemorates the 300th anniversary of the Longitude Act where in 1714 the British government appealed to the public for solutions to one of the great scientific challenges of that century: how to pinpoint a ship's location at sea by knowing its longitude.

At the time, the general consensus was that the solution would be found in the stars, in astronomy. But the challenge was eventually solved by watchmaker and carpenter John Harrison who discovered that the answer lay in a mechanical device; his chronometer. The solution not only led to safer sea travel, but opened up global trade. And importantly - the solution came from left-field; from somewhere - and someone - unexpected.

Longitude Prize 2014 seizes the opportunity of this historical moment and from the 22nd May, we'll be asking the public to tell us which of the six challenges shortlisted by the Longitude Committee should become the focus of Longitude Prize 2014. Getting the public involved in the debate right from the beginning is a great opportunity to raise awareness about some of the key challenges we face (many people we talk to are not aware of the great risk posed by increased resistance to antibiotics, for example) but also opening the door to the unexpected. Through opening up the prize to all, we can stimulate new thinking, new ideas and wider perspectives that may - take us that bit closer to solving a hugely important problem.

Longitude Prize 2014 will be launched on the BBC's flagship science programme Horizon on 22nd May. The show will explore the six challenge areas, which viewers will be able to vote on which challenge they think should be the focus of Longitude Prize 2014.

And what are those challenges..?

Flight - how can we fly without damaging the environment?

The 1999 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change study found that if aircraft carbon emissions continue to rise they could contribute up to 15% of global warming from all human activities within 50 years. If this challenge area is selected we asking for someone to design and build a close to zero carbon aeroplane that is capable of flying from London to Edinburgh, at comparable speed to today's aircraft.

Food - How can we ensure that everyone has nutritious, sustainable food?

By 2050 it is estimated that 9.1 billion people will be living on our planet. As the world's population grows, gets richer and moves to cities, their tastes will turn to more resource-hungry foods such as meat and milk. This challenge area's ask is to invent the next big food innovation, helping to feed the world's growing population with our diminishing resources.

Antibiotics - How can we prevent the rise of resistance to antibiotics?

In the 80 years since the discovery of penicillin, our overuse of antibiotics has put pressure on bacteria to evolve resistance, leading to the emergence of untreatable superbugs that threaten the basis of modern medicine. The aim of this challenge is to create a cheap, accurate, rapid, and easy-to-use test for bacterial infections that will allow doctors and nurses all over the world to administer the right antibiotics at the right time.

Paralysis - How can we restore movement to those with paralysis?

In the UK, a person is paralysed every eight hours. Rehabilitation can be laborious and there is no effective treatment to restore the function of the limbs after serious injury. The challenge here is to invent a solution that gives people with paralysis close to the same freedom of movement that most of us enjoy.

Water - How can we ensure everyone can have access to safe and clean water?

Water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. 98 per cent of the Earth's water is too salty for drinking or agriculture, and one in ten of the world's population don't have access to safe drinking water. This challenge area is to create a cheap, environmentally sustainable desalination technology. It should demonstrate low carbon, sustainable production of water for drinking or agriculture.

Dementia - How can we help people with dementia to live independently for longer?

It is estimated that 135 million people worldwide will have dementia by 2050, which will mean a greater personal and financial cost to society. With no existing cure for dementia, there is a need to find ways to support a person's dignity, physical and emotional well-being and extend their ability to live independently.With this challenge area we are asking someone to develop intelligent, yet affordable technology that revolutionises care for people with dementia enabling them to live truly independent lives.

All of these challenges are hugely important; and already, people all over the world are dedicating their lives and organisations to working on them. Longitude Prize 2014 provides the spur, the inspiration and the momentum for them, and others to drive forward rapid innovation on a challenge that has massive public backing and support.

By June this year, the public will have decided which challenge will be set with a £10 million pound prize fund and up to five years to find a solution. Vote for the challenge you want to see be the next Longitude Prize at www.bbc.co.uk/horizon and find out more about how to get involved at www.longitudeprize.org