Northern Ireland’s scientific heritage is being reawakened – Professor Brian Cox

Northern Ireland’s scientific and engineering heritage is being reawakened with companies embracing new high-tech industries, Professor Brian Cox has said.

The broadcaster and professor of particle physics said the foundations already exist in the region to encourage many more young people towards careers in science.

He was in Ballymena to host the Science Summer School Northern Ireland alongside educators and influencers from the world of science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths.

Four hundred young people from local schools attended the event which included seminars, discussions and hands-on experiments.

Professor Cox, who was formerly a keyboard player with pop group D:Ream, will also lead an evening panel session for students and parents to highlight the career pathways and opportunities available to the future workforce.

He told the PA news agency: “The idea is to bring local schools, local students into an environment where they can be inspired.

“But it is also really important that we have local industry here and there is a tremendous growth in high-tech industry in this region.

“The idea is to make connections between the students and industry so if they want to they can become inspired to become a scientist or an engineer or anything.

“The road, which is not always clear for young people into an industry or a career, so hopefully this helps so they can see it more clearly.”

Professor Brian Cox in Ballymena (Liam McBurney/PA)
Professor Brian Cox in Ballymena (Liam McBurney/PA)

The broadcaster said young students are fascinated by big questions in science.

He added: “I never see any shortage of enthusiasm or interest or ability. What you can see is a lack of understanding of how to have a career in that area.

“I came from a place with similar history, Oldham, which had this tremendous industrial history and then it has gone through a lot of changes and now it is trying to become a high-tech industry hub again.

“When I was growing up I thought I can’t be an astronomer, it is ridiculous. I don’t know anyone who has done that, it is impossible for me.

“That is the most important thing, to say to these students, you can be anything you want to be.”

He said: “If you want to work in a very high-tech engineering company there are a lot of them on the doorstep here. Or if you want to be an astronomer, Armagh is one of the world centres for astronomy.

“There is a space sciences industry here. You can build satellites, you can build aircraft, all those things are here, but I think sometimes people just think it is not for them.

“When you talk to the industries here, they are short of people, there are more jobs than there are people who are qualified or trained to do those jobs.

“We need, whether it is basic science or research or industry, to draw talent from as wide a pool as possible.

“This area is making that transformation into the new industries of the 21st century really successfully.

“You see a great deal of high tech engineering companies in this area because the infrastructure is here and the heritage is here.

“Those are things that are very difficult to get. What you see in this region is that the foundations are solid, they stretch back a long time.

“It reminds me of my part of the world, there is a tremendous historic and scientific and engineering heritage that is being reawakened here.”