February 7, 2011
Last week, a neurologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston won $1 million from Prize4Life for his discovery of a reliable way to monitor progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Prize4Life, which also has an ongoing competition for development of a treatment for ALS, is just one of several organizations that are trying to promote the development of solutions to sometimes longstanding problems with crowdsourcing and the lure of a big prize. Here are some ways you can pad that bank account—if you’re smart enough:
Millennium Prize Problems: In 2000, the Clay Mathematics Institute announced that they would award $1 million to anyone who solved one of seven math problems: the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture, the Hodge Conjecture, the Navier-Stokes Equation, the P vs. NP problem, the Poincaré Conjecture, the Yang-Mills and Mass Gap and the Riemann Hypothesis, which has been on mathematicians’ wish list since 1900. Russian mathematician Grigoriy Perelman received a Millennium Prize last year for resolving the Poincaré Conjecture, the only problem on the list solved so far, but he turned down the prize money.
NASA Centennial Challenges: The space agency has already given away millions in competitions, including competitions over the development of better space suit gloves and reusable rocket-powered vehicles. Current challenges range from the development of super-efficient, “green” aircraft to the demonstration of a solar-powered rover that can operate at night. NASA’s budget plans include $10 million per year for future competitions.
Bright Tomorrow Lighting Prize (aka, L-Prize): If you can build a better light bulb, you might be able to win this Department of Energy-sponsored competition, which was developed to spur manufacturers to create high-quality, high-efficiency products. At stake are a $5 million and a $10 million prize along with promises from electric companies across the country to promote the winning designs.
Life Grand Challenges: Life Technologies, a biotech company, has announced the first four of seven $1 million challenges intended “to accelerate innovative solutions to technical life science challenges.” They’re starting with challenges to increase the capacity, speed and accuracy of DNA sequencing and to sequence the genome from a single cancer cell.
X Prizes: There are three current competitions: The Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge will give $1.4 million to the team that demonstrates the best way to recover oil from the surface of the sea. The Archon X Prize for Genomics will award $10 million to the person who develops a method to sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days at a cost of less than $10,000 per genome. And the Google Lunar X Prize will give a jackpot $30 million to whoever manages to send a robot to the moon, have it travel 500 meters and then send video back to Earth.
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