I’m back from my week in Ireland, regretting as always that there wasn’t more time to look around. After my visit to Galway, I spend Wednesday in Cork, visiting the Tyndall National Institute and the University, where I gave a talk in the Physics Department. Thursday I spent at the Intel Ireland site at Leixlip, near Dublin; this is the largest Intel manufacturing site outside the USA, but I didn’t see very much of it apart from getting an impression of its massive scale, as I spent the day talking about some rather detailed technical issues. On Friday I was in the Physics department of Trinity College, Dublin.
Ireland combines being one of the richest countries in the world (with a GDP per person higher than both the USA and the UK) with a recent sustained high rate of economic growth. Up until relatively recently, though, it has not spent much on scientific research. That’s changed in the last few years; the Government agency Science Foundation Ireland, has been investing heavily. This investment has been carried out in a very focused way, concentrating on biotechnology and information technology. The evidence for this investment was very obvious in the places I visited, both in terms of facilities and equipment and in people, with whole teams being brought in in important areas like photonics. The aim is clearly to emulate the success of the other small, rich countries of Europe, like Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Switzerland, whose contributions to science and technology are well out of proportion to their size
Not that there’s a lack of scientific tradition in Ireland, though – the lecture theatre I spoke in Trinity College was the same one in which Schrödinger delivered his famous series of lectures What is life?”, and as a keepsake I was given a reprint of the lectures at Trinity given by Richard Helsham and published in 1739, which constitute one of the first textbook presentations of the new Newtonian natural philosophy. My thanks go to the Institute of Physics Ireland, and my local hosts Ray Butler, Sile Nic Chormaic and Cormac McGuinness.