IRISH universities need to do a lot more to attract vital research funding, the head of the European Research Council claimed last night as the world's top scientists gathered in Dublin for a major conference.
Council president Helga Nowotny said we rank near the bottom of 25 European countries receiving €1bn in research funding from the council each year.
She made the comments as 500 scientists and 4,000 delegates from 70 countries -- including five Nobel laureates and the heads of NASA and CERN -- converged at the Dublin Convention Centre last night for the opening of the bi-annual European Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) running through Sunday.
Some of the issues that will be explored over the next four days include climate change, food and water shortages and space exploration.
CERN Director General Rolf Heuer is to give a public lecture on Saturday about last week's landmark "God Particle" or Higgs Boson discovery, which conference compere and comedian Dara O Briain jokingly described as a 'massive' public relations coup for the conference.
The conference was officially opened by President Michael D Higgins who noted that Ireland's reputation for "creativity originality and our imaginative view of the world" is not the exclusive purview of our writers, playwrights and poets, but our scientists as well.
He credited scientific breakthroughs, such as the development of fibre optics in communication and the splitting of the atom, to the "innovation, creativity and original thinking of talented Irish scientists".
Among the "long and distinguished tradition of excellence in scientific achievement" he cited the achievements of Ireland's Nobel Laureate in Physics Ernest Walton, whose academic papers and Nobel citation are on display for the first time at Trinity College's Long Room.
He also praised Robert Boyle, the so-called Father of Modern Chemistry, who is best known for "Boyle's Law" on the behaviour of gases.
The 17th-Century scientist -- who ranks with Isaac Newton and Galileo as a key figure in the scientific revolution -- was also a pioneer in natural medicine whose own ill-health led him to unusual cures such as rubbing the scrapings from the inside of a tobacco pipe to cure a toothache.
His quirky home remedies will also be the subject of a discussion by a Trinity College lecturer at the Robert Boyle Summer School in his hometown of Lismore, Co Waterford next week.
Meanwhile, the Government's chief scientific adviser Dr Patrick Cunningham said the long-term aim of the conference and Dublin's designation as the 2012 City of Science, was to strengthen Ireland's reputation for scientific research and enterprise, which hopefully will translate into jobs.
With a focus on careers and business opportunities at the conference, it's hoped the event will be a significant boost for jobs due to Ireland's growing international reputation for science and research, he said.
He predicted ESOF would create significant opportunities for individuals and companies active in key areas of science, technology, engineering and maths.
Jobs and Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton also emphasised the reliance that is now placed on science in the Government's economic recovery strategy.
In 2003, Ireland was ranked 36th in the world for quality of scientific research output -- but in 2010 it had jumped to 20th, he said.
In the same period, the total spend on publicly funded research and development rose from €290m to more than €800m.
Journalist: Allison Bray and Katherine Donnelly