But miracles take a little longer! So goes the oft-seen harassed office workers notice. Perhaps this is a good description of the Longitude Prize 2014. The challenge: to create a cheap, accurate, rapid and easy-to-use point of care test kit for bacterial infections. No small ask, but let me crystallise your thought processes, there’s a TEN MILLION POUND prize at stake!
Why the Longitude Prize? Well, the name echoes the original £20,000 (in its day - 1714 – a fortune) challenge to find a way to accurately solve the navigational problem of determining longitude at sea. A problem solved by John Harrison with his marine chronometer. (See: John Harrison - Inventor of the Precision Timepiece)
With the unfortunate (and wholly incorrect) reputation of being ‘nutcases in sheds’, perhaps this challenge will be beyond the lone inventor/scientist. But I’m not so sure. Does anyone remember the case of Lorenzo’s oil? The true-life story (and film) of Augusto and Michaela Odone who both took on the establishment in an effort to save their son, Lorenzo, from the adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) that was killing him. They were told that nothing could be done but the oil they produced, erucic acid, proved to be effective.
Also remember, in this case, the challenge is not to find new antibiotics but to invent a test-kit for bacterial infections. Let’s not forget that chemists can be inventors too – if, indeed, chemistry is the answer. Maybe someone has an idea that is completely off-the-wall and can apply some new ‘blue sky’ thinking.