Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering awarded to Dr Robert Langer

Dr Robert Langer to receive Queen Elizabeth Prize in Engineering at Buckingham Palace

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a £1 million prize, open to entrants the world over, celebrating ground-breaking innovations in engineering.

The prize is awarded every two years to reward the achievements of an individual – or team of – engineer(s) whose work has been of major benefit to humanity. The previous award, in 2013, was presented to Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf and Louis Pouzin for their contributions to the fundamental protocols that together make up the fundamental architecture of the internet; Tim Berners-Lee for his creation of the World Wide Web and the extension of the use of the Internet beyond email and file transfer; and Marc Andreessen who, while still a student and working with colleagues, wrote the mosaic browser, which made the Web accessible to everyone.

“Engineering is such a wonderful way to contribute to society.” - Dr Robert Langer

Dr Langer, this year’s winner, is a chemical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and renowned inventor, and holds the distinction of having the most cited research papers ever. Langer has been awarded this year’s QEPrize ‘for his revolutionary advances and leadership in engineering at the interface [of] chemistry and medicine’.

Langer was selected to receive the prize in recognition of his work with drug delivery systems. The first to engineer polymers to protect large molecular weight drugs from degradation, allowing them to be released over a time period of choice, Langer is now working on developing a new form of microchip implant for long-term controlled drug release. His work has benefited more than two million people worldwide, and promises to help yet millions more.

Dr Langer will receive his prize from her Majesty in a ceremony on the 26th October at Buckingham Palace, which will end a day of lectures and discussion on the topic of engineering. 

According to the Sunday Times, the Queen, who is said to have enjoyed ‘getting her hands dirty’ as a member of the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) during the Second World War, has also made particular effort to invite a large number of the most brilliant young women in engineering in the country to the ceremony. This is welcome news, since women currently make up only 6% of the engineering workforce in the UK, and high profile efforts are needed to remedy this woefully low proportion.

The Queen 'gets her hands dirty' repairing an automotive engine while serving in the ATS

A royal source was quoted as saying that “for the Queen to lend her name and support to a dedicated prize is both rare and hugely significant. She can see the vital importance of engineering to our future and is proactively encouraging young people to consider it as a choice. Engineering matters and the Queen wants to play her part in telling people about it.”

Announced as the winner of this year’s prize in February, Langer spoke to the magazine NewScientist about the award, relating that he felt ‘honoured, somewhat shocked and humbled by getting it’, and about his career to date. He also commended the prize itself, saying that he ‘think[s] it’s a terrific prize…it’s wonderful to see the UK and the queen wanting to do something for engineering’.

Who is Dr Robert Langer? (video via @QEPrize)

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