TV blog: The Longitude Prize is revived, 300 years on



Horizon, BBC2, Thursday, 9pm

The inability of navigators to establish longitude was one of the most pressing problems of its age. Sailors were dying of ignorance. They were either literally lost at sea or unaware of nearby dangers.

In 1714 the Longitude Act established a £20,000 prize (worth £1million today) for a simple and practical method to determine location.

On the tercentenary of the Act, a new Longitude Prize has been unveiled. This time the sum is £10million and, although a Board of Longitude has been reconvened, it will be a public vote that will decide the fate of the money.

Tonight, Prof Alice Roberts at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, will explore the six shortlisted topic areas and open the vote on BBC Two's Horizon, which marks its own 50th anniversary.

The Royal Observatory is home to H4, John Harrison's clock which secured the original prize in 1765 and is the site of the Prime Meridian which marks the start and end point of pole-to-pole longitude.

The Science Museum's Roger Highfield, who is on the committee chaired by Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees, said: "The winning idea, which will probably be announced by 2020, is likely to be the product of many minds, in many countries, using many technologies.

"But the spur remains the same as in Harrison's day. It is not the money, though £10million is certainly newsworthy. Nor is it the glory of being the first, or best, or most innovative.

"It will be the satisfaction of changing the world for the better, not just for the benefit of this generation but for the next."

Six challenges
- Flight: How can we fly without damaging the environment?
- Food: How can we ensure everyone has nutritious sustainable food?
- Antibiotics: How can we prevent the rise of resistance to antibiotics?
- Paralysis: How can we restore movement to those with paralysis?
- Water: How can we ensure everyone has access to safe and clean water?
- Dementia: How can we help people with dementia live independently for longer?