Funding for science

 

Sir, – Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton’s announcement of Science Foundation Ireland’s €39 million investment is welcome (Business Today, June 30th), but this new narrow focus on applied science is a serious threat to Ireland’s emerging reputation for world-class basic research.

The scientific discoveries that produce novel technologies come from funding creative scientists to conduct world-class fundamental research. This is how the great universities of the world, such as Stanford, MIT and Cambridge, have produced countless successful commercial spin-outs, not to mention Nobel prizes. Indeed, lasers, antibiotics, wireless networks, and even the internet, all emerged from laboratories focused on basic research.

The Government’s implementation of the recommendations of the Research Prioritisation Exercise, which was steered predominantly by industrialists and not by leading international scientists, will decimate many Irish research groups. This policy is already driving our best young scientists and their professors to seek opportunities abroad.

For Ireland to lead in science and capitalise on the resulting technologies, we need to keep our best scientists in Ireland.

As with any investment strategy, a diverse portfolio of investments, ranging from fundamental basic research to industrially focused applied projects, has a significantly better potential to produce new Irish scientific discoveries for innovation.

Fundamental research can make world-changing scientific discoveries, lead to innovation, produce much-needed science graduates for industry, and play an important role in supporting Ireland’s economic recovery. Fundamental research is not a luxury item that should only be funded during good times, but forms the very basis for applied science and innovation, without which our smart economy will flounder. – Yours, etc,

Dr PETER GALLAGHER,

School of Physics,

Trinity College Dublin;

Dr EMMA TEELING,

School of Biology and Environmental Science,

University College Dublin.