Nobody but government buys Science but everybody (except Government, I think sometimes) buys the products of Science even if unknowingly. The trick of a Science or Knowledge-based economy is to have enough ideas and research that generate new products and services that the populations of the world need, want and for which they are prepared and able to pay.
We group products and services into markets with a common thread, geography or theme. In Northern Ireland, we have grown our engineering and physics based businesses out of all proportion to where they were at the millennium, as I hope you’ll hear on 16th February, when the Institute of Physics present “The role of physics in supporting economic growth” on the opening day of the NI Science Festival. These are my comfort zones but today I want to stray into less known territory.
In NI, we have deep roots in both Agriculture and in Medicine and we have world-changing names to match; Ferguson who transformed global mechanised farming with his three-point linkage, embodied in the little grey Fergie, medics such as Hans Sloane, physician to Royalty and William Beattie who tried (sadly unsuccessfully) to staunch the fatal blow to one of my heroes, Admiral Lord Nelson. We also have some magnificent entrepreneurs already tackling these subjects as markets.
Providing national isolationism doesn’t keep spreading right across the world, the promise of the United Nations to remove permanently from the world the disgrace of abject poverty by 2030 will be fulfilled. Such poverty is defined as living on less than $1 a day.
Commentators like Hans Rosling teach us that History suggests, as people move up the affluence ladder towards the $10pd, they cease to rely on huge families and legions of children to see them through their old age. Rather they choose to invest in the welfare of a few with better education, nutrition and health care. This is beginning even now and the signs are in the international data even if it doesn’t make headline news.
We have lots to offer in each of these markets, fuelled by our own research. We have a lot to learn too. We can innovate on the basis of others’ inventions and technologies to create new products and services. And we can learn from innovations arising from the different economic environments across the world.
Whichever we do, it should be well served by our growing excellence in the crosscutting themes of ICT, especially cyber-security and analytics, and advanced manufacturing with its focus on new materials and low impact methods.
The NI Science Festival, starting on 16th February, is a great opportunity to find out more about the impact of science on our society. I would urge everybody to check out the programme and get engaged. At Catalyst Inc we are running events with the Institute of Physics, Institute of Civil Engineers and the British Council. Details at http://www.nisciencefestival.com/programme.php
Science is for and impacts everyone; do give it a go!