THE inaugural Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering – likened to the missing Nobel Prize for the discipline – has been won by five engineers considered pioneers in the development of the internet and worldwide web.
The £1m prize, awarded at a ceremony in London on 18 March 2013, was presented to Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf, Louis Pouzin, Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreessen.
The Royal Academy of Engineering has established the biennial prize to celebrate those whose work has been of global benefit to humanity.
Kahn, Cerf and Pouzin made seminal contributions to the design and protocols that together form the fundamental architecture at the heart of the internet that now links billions of computers, connecting one third of the world's population.
The judging panel was made up of 15 leaders in the field of engineering, including the three chemical engineers IChemE Fellow Lynn Gladden, of this department, Frances Arnold of Caltech, US, and Hiroshi Komiyama of the Engineering Academy of Japan.
"Engineering has no recognition among the prestigious Nobel Prizes and we certainly hope that the Queen Elizabeth Prize will become recognised as of equal standing," said Prof Gladden.
Beyond filling a gap in recognition for ground-breaking engineering, it is hoped that the press attention received by the award will increase public understanding of engineering. A 2009 survey by Engineering UK found that just 36% of men and 14% of women said they knew what engineers do. The figures were even lower among children, which must change if the UK is to find the extra 587,000 extra engineers it is estimated to need by 2017.
"I hope that this prize informs and educates people from every walk of life and every age group about engineering and its role in society – past and present. Inevitably, the big win that we hope for is that the younger generation engages with engineering and understands what it is – and finds it exciting,” Gladden adds.
Asked if she was disappointed that the application of chemical and process engineering hadn’t taken the prize, Gladden said: “There could only be ‘one’ winner – but all of us who have been involved in the award of the prize are confident that engineering as a discipline will be the long-term winner.”
The trophy itself was designed by 17-year-old Jennifer Leggett from Kent, whose tree-inspired design represents the growth of engineering and the way that all the areas of the discipline are interlinked.
The prize winner was announced by former BP CEO Lord Browne. Also in attendance were HRH the Princess Royal, the judges, including Professor Brian Cox, and the trustees of the prize, including Sir John Parker.
The prize is funded through industry support from BAE Systems, BG Group, BP, GlaxoSmithKline, Jaguar Land Rover, National Grid, Shell, Siemens, Sony, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Steel and Toshiba.
The winners will visit Buckingham Palace in June to officially collect their trophies and prize money.