Can XPrize Competition Shift Focus from 'Sexy Science' to Earth's Oceans?

By Schouten, Lucy | The Christian Science Monitor, December 15, 2015 | Go to article overview

Can XPrize Competition Shift Focus from 'Sexy Science' to Earth's Oceans?


Schouten, Lucy, The Christian Science Monitor


The XPrize Foundation is offering up $7 million in hopes of enticing mankind's interest away from the stars for a moment and down toward the Earth's largest natural resource - the ocean.

The educational organization's newest competition seeks to counter the research slump that ocean study suffers when public interest and funding leans in favor of space and other "sexy science" fields.

"We know more about the surface of Mars than we do our own oceans," XPrize chairman and chief executive Peter Diamandis said at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, according to Discovery News.

The three-year competition launched Monday invites scientists the world over to study the ocean floor. The Ocean Discovery XPrize offers $7 million to the team that develops the toughest robots capable of exploring the ocean floor 2.5 miles below the water's surface. The robotic vehicles must use high-resolution photos to identify and map features of geologic, archaeological, and biological import.

The teams will be judged on both their vehicles' ability to navigate the depths autonomously and the quality of the underwater photos.

The national preference for stargazing over scuba-sleuthing can be seen in a quick follow-the-money exercise, as Jessica Mendoza previously reported for The Christian Science Monitor:

A big part of the problem is that oceanography just doesn't seem as sexy as, say, space exploration. To break it down in numbers: In 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA, which runs ocean research as well as climate forecasting, fishery management, and others, received a little over $23 million in government funding for its exploration program, according to a report by the Center for American Progress. …

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