President urges young scientists to work for benefit of humanity rather than personal gain

‘Science has extended the length and quality of life itself but is never neutral,’ says Michael D Higgins at opening of BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition

Science has revolutionised life, enabling tremendous social change for the benefit of humankind, yet misuse of scientific knowledge “can be disastrous for us all”, President Michael D Higgins has warned.

Addressing students at the opening of the 2023 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition on Wednesday, he said: “You will be at your best, in achieving the greatest fulfilment for yourself and others, when you locate your contribution within a commitment to be concerned and contributing global citizens.”

This year, energy is a dominant theme at the exhibition, with projects ranging from how to generate more renewables to using natural materials to generate fossil fuel alternatives.

The President said he had faith in the ability of young people “to locate your gifts, your brilliance, in a moral context, to be willing to work for the benefit of all humanity beyond any well-earned personal reward”.


“Knowledge is for sharing, and the practice of science and the appropriate delivery of its work through appropriate technology should flow to all unimpeded by boundaries or income,” he told more than 1,100 students gathered at the RDS in Dublin.

Science is “dramatically changing our means of communication, the way we work, our food, our methods of transportation and, indeed, through medical research and practice, even the length and quality of life itself”, the President said.

It had generated vaccines in responding to pandemics but “there is no better example of the positive role which science has played than in its providing irrefutable scientific evidence of climate change”.

It was helping to inform a social, economic and political debate on the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions “and thus remain within the planet’s ecological boundaries, protect the Earth and all the life on it from the catastrophic consequences of global warming and biodiversity loss”.

Science, however, was never neutral, he warned, as it could be employed to generate “ever more sophisticated weapons and instruments of death and destruction that are used to generate fear for populations while supporting the insatiable drive of military industrial complexes for profits”.

This, President Higgins said, was at a cost by undermining democratic accountability through corruption, unaccountable lobbying, and bribery in continents “where millions are starving and societies were being divided over access to resources for life itself”.

It was vital, therefore, not to be indifferent to the responsibilities of scientists, to enhance a moral consciousness of the importance of working within an ethical framework, he said.

Governments, peoples and corporations must work together to ensure the fruits of science contribute solutions to “the great global, social, economic and ecological challenges we all face in our burning planet, seek to advance the possibilities of fulfilment for all that are there beyond the narrow provision of a source of wealth for any single individual or corporation”.

Appropriate science, in co-operation with indigenous wisdom and cultural practices, could lead to a transformation in continents such as Africa, where it can reduce hunger and poverty through food security, deliver healthy living conditions and universal basic services, including education and healthcare, he predicted.

This would achieve the connection between economy, society, ecology, justice and culture “that we so urgently need and cannot postpone”.

Mr Higgins commended the brilliance, innovative ideas and creativity associated with the exhibition. “What a far-sighted vision [co-founders] Tony Scott and Tom Burke had, and what a legacy it has created, and is still making possible.”

He advised the latest participants to value friendship in scientific collaboration and to “stay curious for life, and protect it”.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times