Want to solve society’s most urgent problems? Cash prizes can spur breakthroughs

Innovation is a critical part of tackling problems in areas as diverse as transportation, housing, public health and energy. But the scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs who might generate creative solutions often investigate issues or pursue economic opportunities in other less urgent fields. Incentives for science and innovation try to steer efforts toward the most pressing societal problems.

Prizes – cash rewards for scientific, engineering and other achievements – are one form of incentive that has been around for a very long time. In the 18th century, for example, organizations such as the Royal Society in the U.K. awarded medals to scientists for their breakthrough research.

Today, in addition to this type of scientific award, there are also prizes for solutions to diverse problems including the invention of new transportation means for disabled people, the engineering of new battery recycling methods, and even the development of technologies to treat COVID-19 patients.

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