Ireland has been represented in science and technology by such distinguished names as Robert Boyle, the 17th century physicist, John Tyndall (1820-93), who lent his name to a wide variety of scientific and technological discoveries, and Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), who is renowned for his work on transatlantic cables. While these worked in international circles, others such as William Rowan Hamilton (1805-65), the inventor of quaternion calculus, William Parsons (1800-67), builder of the world’s first great telescope, and Nicholas Callan (1799-1864), the father of battery technology and magnetism, maintained a strong tradition at home. Ernest T. Walton of Trinity College, Dublin, won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1951.
Irish institutions have also been innovators. The Dublin Society (later the Royal Dublin Society), established in 1731, was among the first schools of science and became a model for other such societies. The establishment of the Royal Irish Academy in 1785 gave Irish science and technology an independent focus. The work of these bodies, together with the universities, made Dublin an important centre for mathematics and astronomy in the 19th century.
The Government recognises that science and technology are central to economic and social development. It is a cornerstone of policy to ensure an adequate flow of well-educated graduates, diploma holders and people with third level educational certificates in science and related disciplines.
Total Government allocation to science and technology amounted to IR£498 million in 1993. The education and training of scientists, engineers and technicians in formal courses was the main area of expenditure followed by technical services in the health sector. A major expenditure in the manufacturing industry area was under the Science and Technology for Industrial Development Programme of the Department of Enterprise and Employment. The Department’s Office of Science and Technology, has responsibility for co-ordinating Ireland’s input on science and technology issues at the level of the European Union and other international fora.
State research institutes play a major role in providing advice and consultancy in support of economic and social development. These include Teagasc, which provides advisory research, education and training services for agriculture and the food industry, Forbairt, which is responsible for the development of indigenous industry and for providing investment support for science and technology in industry, third level education colleges, and other specialised centres, and Forfás, the policy and advisory board for industrial development.
Other State research institutes include the Health Research Board, involved in research in health, health services, and epidemiology, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which provides environmental and related services to support the environmental infrastructure programmes of the Department of the Environment and the local authorities.The Schools of Theoretical Physics and of Cosmic Physics of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies pursue fundamental research and train advanced students in original research methods.
Total expenditure on research and development was estimated at IR£376 million in 1993 or 1.2% of GDP. Expenditure in the business sector accounted for 65% of the total.
Expenditure on research in the colleges of higher education was estimated at IR£79 million in 1993. A new feature of university sector research is the programmes in advanced technologies. The overall goal of the programmes is to enhance the performance of industry through research and technology transfer activities. Programmes have been established in advanced manufacturing technology, biotechnology, materials, optoelectronics, power electronics, software and telecommunications.
Ireland is a member of the EUREKA programme of technological research which is intended to enable Europe to exploit technology for world competitiveness, and of the European Space Agency. Ireland is party to a number of bilateral co-operation agreements in science and technology, predominantly with European countries, to facilitate collaboration between research bodies and individual researchers.
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