British Prime Minister David Cameron has launched a £1m ($1.6m) international engineering prize which he hopes will carry the same stature as the Nobel prizes.
Known as the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, it will be awarded every two years from 2013 to an individual or team of up to three people, of any nationality, directly responsible for advancing the application of engineering knowledge.
"I hope this prize will go some way to inspire and excite young people about engineering, so that they dream of becoming engineers as they once did in the age of Stephenson and Brunel," says Cameron, referring to two of the most famous British engineers.
"For too long Britain's economy has been over-reliant on consumer debt and financial services. We want to rebalance the economy so that Britain makes things again — high-skilled, high-value manufacturing and engineering should be a central part of our long-term future," he adds.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg agrees: "This prize flies in the face of the myth that engineering is a part of Britain's past. It's true that we have a proud record — a nation historically at the forefront of scientific breakthroughs and the vanguard of design. But engineering is just as much a part of our future — at the heart of a new economy driven by invention and innovation. The Queen Elizabeth Prize will draw the eyes of the engineering world to Britain. We are bringing engineering home."
The irony of these comments isn't lost on manufacturers who have long struggled against the policies of previous Conservative and Labour governments that have actively encouraged the move to a more service-based economy.
Nevertheless, Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), Rugby, CEO David Brown welcomes the prize: "To see top political figures recognize the vital place of engineering in the world is a big step forward. This is about celebrating the world's best engineering, inspiring the engineers of the future, and crucially, getting political leaders to realize how vital engineers are. I'll be doing my best to encourage plenty of chemical- and process-engineering-based entries."
"The prize is the result of a growing recognition within political and business circles of the need to highlight engineering worldwide," notes the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), London. The RAE will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the prize.
A number of major engineering companies, including BAE Systems, BP, GSK, National Grid, Shell and Siemens, have donated to an endowment fund. The fund is being managed by an independent charitable trust, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation, chaired by former BP head Lord Browne of Madingley. The RAE will deliver the Prize on behalf of the trust.
Browne's fellow trustees are Sir John Parker, president of the RAE, Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, London, and Mala Gaonkar, managing director of Lone Pine Capital, Greenwich, Ct. U.K. government chief scientist Professor Sir John Beddington has accepted an invitation to be adviser to the Foundation.
The prize provides a high-profile, global communications platform to explore the breadth, creativity and impact of engineering of all kinds around the world.
"Engineering underpins every aspect of our lives. As the bridge between scientific discovery and commercial application, engineering feeds and clothes us, and enables us to work, travel and communicate. But too often the engineers behind the most brilliant innovations remain hidden. The Queen Elizabeth Prize aims to change that. It will celebrate, on an international scale, the very best engineering in the world. I believe that this prize will inspire the public, especially young people, with a sense of the excitement and the importance of engineering," says Lord Browne.
Sir John Parker adds: "This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a major shift in public perception of engineering. The products of engineering are everywhere, but too often the engineering and engineers behind even the most brilliant innovations remain hidden from public view. So the sheer excitement and creativity of professional engineering often do not get recognized, let alone celebrated. The search for the winning project will provide a platform to explore the best innovation in engineering across the world and inspire the public, especially young people, about the potential of engineering on a global scale."
In February, an international panel of judges will be appointed followed by a call for nominations. These will close in July, with the prize winner or winners announced in December 2012. The first prize will be awarded at a major event in the Spring of 2013.
More information about the award is available on the RAE's website, www.raeng.org.uk/QEprize.
SEÁN OTTEWELL is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.