President hails importance of original thinking


PRESIDENTIAL POETRY, singing and Irish dance yesterday raised the curtain on Euroscience Open Forum 2012 (Esof), Europe’s largest science meeting, which is now under way at the Convention Centre Dublin. The five-day event has brought more than 4,200 delegates to the city to take part in 150 talks, workshops and presentations.

President Michael D Higgins was guest of honour as he opened the event, welcoming delegates who have come from 70 different countries to attend. “We in Ireland are proud of our reputation for creativity . . . and imaginative view of the world,” he told them.

And yet while Ireland had a long and distinguished tradition of excellence in scientific achievement, it was perhaps better known for its poets and playwrights.

“As a nation we must have the confidence and continue to remember our proven aptitude for physics, for chemistry, for technological development; our great ability to push the boundaries outwards, our restless, creative energy and curiosity that translates to a constant exploration of how things work and how they can be done better, more effectively, more efficiently,” he told the assembled delegates.

He expressed his delight at being able to participate in the Esof conference in his first year as President and to see Dublin designated as the City of Science for 2012. He also hoped to see “further reconnection of the arts with the sciences” given their shared source in creativity.

“Innovation based on creative original thinking is the key to unlocking Ireland’s future economic potential,” he said. “However, this has to be done through the adoption of approaches that are sustainable – addressing the world’s resource, climate and environmental challenges; providing employment opportunities and promoting full participation; and working with the full support of local, regional, national, EU and international-level policies.”

He read lines from one of his poems about how we are formed from star dust, in turn making a link between the discipline needed by the poet forming lines and the scientist pursuing research. Both also depended to a certain extent on serendipity, on the fortuitous emergence of ideas, he added.

Government chief scientific adviser Dr Patrick Cunningham and chairman of Esof2012 also welcomed delegates. He is the Irish “champion” of Esof2012, having led the campaign which saw the event, against major competition from other cities, being held here.

He talked about the importance of the meeting as a place for making connections and of the convergence of scientific discovery and economic advantage for societal gain. “Science still has much to do,” he said.

Esof president Prof Enric Banda said it was a grass-roots body that formed 15 years ago and stayed independent of political groups and ideology. While it could deliver the Higgs particle, it could also tackle societal challenges. “At the moment we don’t know how to stop the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. But we will find out,” he said. “Research is essential for our future.”

EU commissioner for research Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said it was clear that “more science and better science” was needed to deal with world challenges such as climate change and a growing world population. A bigger share of scarce resources must be allocated to science, research and innovation, she said. “There is a real risk that science might be seen as a luxury – but is not a luxury.”

Minister for Innovation Richard Bruton, welcoming delegates to Dublin, said it was important to pursue knowledge but it was also important that it deliver for people. A small open economy such as Ireland made it essential to invest in knowledge, he said.

Initial speeches were followed by a mix of Irish song and dance and the first keynote address, delivered by Nobel Prize winner Jules Hoffmann.


News, opinion and interviews from ESOF and Dublin City of Science.


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