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Cameron launches £1m global engineering award

Prime Minister David Cameron has launched a £1 million international engineering prize for “ground-breaking advances which have led to significant benefit to humanity”.

Established to raise the profile of engineering, the Queen Elizabeth Engineering Prize will be awarded every other year to an individual or team of up to three people.

John Browne, the previous president of the Royal Academy of Engineering and former chief executive of BP, will chair an independent charitable trust to manage the fund.

Trustees include John Parker, president of RAE; Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society; and Mala Gaonkar, managing director of Lone Pine Capital.

John Beddington, the government’s chief scientific adviser, will serve as adviser to the foundation.

An initial endowment fund has been set up with contributions from industrial partners including BAE Systems, GlaxoSmithKline, Jaguar Land Rover, National Grid, Shell, Siemens, Sony and Tata Steel.

The RAE says that an international judging panel for the prize will be announced in February 2012, when the foundation will call for nominations.

Nominations will be open until July that year and the winner will be announced in December. A “major award event” is to take place in Spring 2013.

“Engineering underpins every aspect of our lives. But too often the engineers behind the most brilliant innovations remain hidden,” said Browne in a statement. “The Queen Elizabeth Prize aims to change that. It will celebrate, on an international scale, the very best engineering in the world.”

Launching the award, Cameron said, “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.”

Martin Rees, the former president of the Royal Society, has criticised the set-up of the new prize. In an interview in the Daily Telegraph on 17 November, he said that the award should not have been limited to three people, since this did not reflect the collaborative nature of modern science and engineering.

“I think it would have been far better to offer a prize rewarding a solution to a great contemporary challenge, set up so that progress towards the goal could be followed by a wide public,” he told the newspaper.

“When new prizes are established on traditional lines, the first few awardees tend to be a backlog of geriatrics. And if it is truly global, and awarded fairly, it will go far more often to people overseas than to Britons, and that won’t necessarily do much to promote British engineering,” he added.

Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, warned that engineering is still suffering from major cuts.

“This prize will be a fantastic way to raise the profile of [the engineering] agenda, but our research base and workforce need to be the best in the world in order to compete—the current cuts we’re seeing to science and engineering will hamper that,” he said in a statement.

“None of the main political parties have put science and engineering at the heart of their economic plans, so we hope that today’s announcement will see that beginning to change,” he added.