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Captain's Log

May 2014

Longitude Prize 2014 - £10m Competition Launched

Longitude Prize 2014 - £10m Competition Launched

Longitude Prize 2014 - £10m Competition Launched

A £10m prize has been launched to solve one of the greatest scientific problems facing the world today.

It is inspired by, and marks the 300th anniversary of, the 1714 Longitude Prize in which £20,000 was offered by the British government for an accurate and reliable marine chronometer. Solving the problem of accurate timekeeping was vital in determining the longitudinal position of a ship at sea, which would give the navies of United Kingdom an enormous advantage in the quest for Empire, trade and global exploration.

It was simply a matter of comparing local time (by the position of the sun) with a clock on board set to GMT but, whilst the theory was straightforward, the practice was fraught with problems. The motion of the ship, changes in temperature, humidity and barometric pressure all affected the accuracy of clocks. A discrepancy of just a few minutes per day could, over a period of weeks, result in positional calculations being hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles adrift.

Indeed, the problem took 60 years to solve, by Yorkshire watchmaker John Harrison who was duly awarded the prize in 1773. His
Navigator Chronometer can now be viewed at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London.

Now, 300 years later, a new challenge is being launched, with a prize of £10m offered for the solution to some of today's biggest problems - such as how to care for an ageing population, how to generate cheap and safe energy, and how to feed the world. The categories have been selected by a Longitude Committee, chaired by the English Astronomer Royal, Prof Sir Martin Rees and will be chosen by public vote. After the result of the vote is announced, experts will then convene to refine the details of the challenge, with anyone from around the world able to submit their solution.

The prize will only be awarded when someone can demonstrate that their invention actually meets those criteria, and it may be many years before a winner is decided. For more information, visit

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