With the annual search for the Young Scientist of the Year about to get underway, Gerry Breen looks at some of the many Irish scientists who have more than excelled themselves in their chosen field down through the centuries.
Throughout the world, Ireland’s writers and musicians are well-known and highly acclaimed. Naturally, we are all very proud of this. Sadly, the achievements of our scientists do not receive the same recognition and, in fact, there is a widespread perception that Ireland’s contribution to science is not worthy of serious attention.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Ireland has an important scientific heritage which deserves to be better known, and the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, which is held each year in January, demonstrates that as a people we have an aptitude for science.
It’s as well to remind ourselves of Ireland’s fine historical record in science. For instance, there were many important engineers who had their roots in Ireland, like John Philip Holland, a pioneer in the construction of submarines; Charles Parsons, who invented the steam turbine engine; Henry Ford, the car manufacturer, who is credited with putting the world on wheels; Harry Ferguson, who developed the tractor, and Guglielmo Marconi, the ‘Father of Radio’ and a Nobel prizewinner for physics, whose mother, Annie Jameson, came from Enniscorthy in Co. Wexford.
More than three hundred years ago, Robert Boyle, who was born at Lismore Castle, Co. Waterford, became known as ‘The Father of Chemistry’. This scientific genius was hugely influential at a time when chemistry was emerging from its pseudo-scientific predecessor, Alchemy. He formulated a number of very significant discoveries, including Boyle’s Law which dealt with the pressure and volume of gasses.
Robert Boyle was born in 1627 and died in 1691. He was the youngest son of Richard Boyle, the Great Earl of Cork, and he devoted much of his life to scientific studies. A prodigious writer on scientific subjects, he is credited with coining the term ‘analysis’.