A new £1 million global award for engineering will celebrate outstanding advances in engineering that have created significant benefit to humanity.
The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering will be awarded biennially to one individual or team of up to three people, of any nationality, directly responsible for advancing the application of engineering knowledge. The first prize winners will be announced in December 2012, with the first award ceremony in Spring 2013.
It is hoped that over time the award will have the same stature as the Nobel Prizes.
The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation has been set up to oversee delivery of the prize, and the day-to-day running will be handled by the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Former BP chief executive Lord Browne, who will chair the foundation, said: “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.”
The award, funded by firms including defence giant BAE Systems, oil producer Shell and drugs company GlaxoSmithKline, was launched today at the Science Museum in London.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he hoped the prize would carry the same stature as the Nobel Prizes.
“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. 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,” Cameron said.
Lord Browne told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme the award was for every kind of engineering.
“I think everyone has a little bit of a problem with engineering but I think we in Britain punch a little above our weight. We have some great academic institutions producing very sought after engineers. They don't just live in the UK, they go elsewhere as well.
"We also have companies that take the fruits of discovery and do something practical with them, whether that is in pharmaceuticals, IT, energy or in structural engineering. There's a lot of different activities.
"I would say we are very good but we have to keep going as the UK and the most important thing is to inspire young people to aspire to do better."
Lord Browne said the prize would not necessarily always be won by established, qualified engineers.
He said: "Discoveries come from everywhere, innovation comes from people applying their mind - they don't actually have to be chartered engineers, indeed some of them don't have to go to university. The most brilliant, the greatest, can do something quite extraordinary from their own inner strength.
"Classification is not where we should get caught up."
Paul Davies, Head of Policy at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said: “Engineering affects everyone everywhere in the world every day. Unfortunately, though, the achievements and importance of engineers is all too often overlooked.
“I believe that the Queen Elizabeth Prize, backed by British business, will inspire a greater awareness of engineering achievement. This is essential to solving some of the world’s problems and creating sustainable economic growth.”