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Issues for humans and the Longitude Prize

Posted June. 28, 2014 05:52,   


Latitudes and longitudes, which are drawn across the map of the globe, are imaginary lines. Humans came up with it for convenience in sailing. Currently, latitudes and longitudes are easy to look up, but it was different in the Era of Grand Navigation during the 16th and 17th Centuries. Even while ships sailed to the New World carrying massive amounts, there was no way of knowing their whereabouts in the endless ocean using just a sea map and compass. The sailors likewise did not know where they were headed, frequently running aground.

Finding the latitude is easy. The equator is assumed to be 0, then in the range of the sun’s movement during the year, Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn are set. Then concentric circles can be drawn in the direction of the Arctic and Antarctic. The issue was finding the longitude. In order to know what longitude the ships were on the sea, it was necessary to know simultaneously the time of a location of the home port or the time of a place where the longitude was known. The mariner was able to compute the longitude by converting the time difference into distance. Yet even slight inaccuracies in time widened distances enormously.

The British government, which had been troubled with longitude issues, legislated the Longitude Act in 1714 and decided to award the massive amount that was equivalent of the King’s ransom (20,000 pounds at the time) for a simple and practical method for the precise determination of a ship`s longitude. This was the Longitude Prize. The prize money had its effect. The one who resolved this issue, which even Isaac Newton said was impossible, by inventing the chronometer which maintained accurate time in any part of the world, was a clock mechanic John Harrison, who had not received formal education.

On the occasion of the 300-year anniversary of the Longitude Prize, the Longitude Committee is offering a GBP10 million prize (approximately KRW17.2 billion) to someone who contributes to resolving the greatest issues facing humanity. The Committee has presented the six issues of overcoming dementia, regenerating nerves, making water safe for drinking, air flight that does not damage the environment, supplying sufficient food, and addressing antibiotic resistance. Upon an online vote, antibiotic resistance was the winning challenge. Antibiotics are of two faces, Janus-like. The medication represented by penicillin among other antibiotics has saved countless human lives, but now bacteria which are resistant to the substance have emerged. It appears that the one who solves the difficult issue of antibiotic resistance should come from Korea, which Number One in antibiotics use in the world.

Editorial Writer Chung Seong-hui (shchung@donga.com)