Nobel winner Heath turns up the heat on State
Something similar could happen here if the wrong decisions are taken. “There has been a serious economic change but the quickest way to lose it is if the people go,” Heath says. “Ireland was a great, exciting place for 10 years but then they pulled the rug out.” He says he is not ignoring the fiscal realities. “People appreciate Ireland is in tough times now, and governments can be fickle.”
He says if it does nothing else, however, the Government must keep to the commitment to support high-quality people doing high-quality research. “You have to use resources in a way that will allow you the potential to retain people with the capacity to change the world,” he says.
“You want to pay attention to the needs of your economy. But if you go off and do something great, you might create a company with 200 employees. Do science that supports the economy, but also the science that is able to surprise.”
He is aware of the link between research and job creation, having co-founded a string of companies. He points to the two key high-tech regions in the US, California and Boston. It is no accident, he says, that the advanced industries arising directly from research are co-located adjacent to some of the best universities in the US.
Supports for research must ensure that discovery science is fully supported, and in turn commercial opportunities will result. “Innovation really begins at start-up level, a kid with a good idea,” Heath says.
But the student with the good idea also needs lab space and then investors willing not only to supply money but also expertise in a genuine partnership. “That is a really big deal,” Heath says. “They become partners in the deal. You want their knowledge as much as their money.”
Heath joins a number of international scientists on Crann’s advisory board. “All of us had a role in building a centre of this kind,” he says. “The overall message we would want to impart is it really is amazing what has been built here. It is a pearl of the university. Ireland should be proud of this place. The people of Ireland should be fighting to keep this place.”