Vital impact of physics-based industry in Northern Ireland is shown in IOP report

17 February 2017

Physics-based businesses employ more than 59,000 people in Northern Ireland and contribute around £3.2 bn in gross value added (GVA) to its economy, a report published by the IOP shows.

Vital impact of physics-based industry in Northern Ireland is shown in IOP report

The report, The role of physics in supporting economic growth and national productivity in Northern Ireland, was launched on the first day of the Northern Ireland Science Festival on 16 February. Physicists, policymakers and business leaders met for a networking event following the launch at The Innovation Centre at Catalyst Inc, Belfast, whose chief executive officer, Norman Apsley, spoke at the occasion to welcome the publication.

Apsley, the IOP’s former vice-president, business and innovation, said that over the last 200 years Northern Ireland had provided more than its fair share of physics and physicists to the world, but for much of that time the economic benefits had sadly eluded it. “Subjects like physics and mathematics have a joy and even a beauty in themselves. They also lead to innovations and discoveries that can and must be made available to the people of the world – this only happens by translation into products and services,” he said.

More recently, however, there had been growth in physics-based innovation. “As this report confirms, we have used every ounce of that legacy to build a new and growing economy,” he said. “A new economy, with jobs and wealth for all our people, is within our grasp, but it does not come without industry and investment.”

Vital impact of physics-based industry in Northern Ireland is shown in IOP report

Apsley (pictured to the right of Jonathan Wallace of the University of Ulster) highlighted some success stories, including among others the Global Centre of Research into Electronics, Communications and Information Technology at Catalyst Inc, led by Professor Sir John McCanny and the physics- and bioscience-based company Randox, whose medical products are used in the diagnosis of more than 370 million people annually. He said: “This report highlights the need to continue and even to increase our investment in education and research and to balance the focus between the science and the entrepreneurship that will convert it to wealth.”

Professor David Riley of Queen’s University Belfast (top picture), co-chair of the Institute of Physics in Ireland, said: “Today’s success is built on yesterday’s investment. It is the fruit of long-term support for physics in education, research and skills. If Northern Ireland is to maintain a high-tech, high-growth economy for the future, that support for physics will need to continue – and even expand.

“The IOP is working to ensure that the benefits of physics are understood, and making the case for continued investment in this vital area in order to secure a bright future for Northern Ireland.”

Vital impact of physics-based industry in Northern Ireland is shown in IOP report

The report notes that direct contributions to Northern Ireland’s economy by physics-based industries through employment, GVA and turnover are multiplied by knock-on effects such as increased demand for suppliers’ goods and services, stimulation of new jobs further down the supply chain and spending by employees in newly-created jobs. When these are taken into account, physics-based industries in Northern Ireland were responsible for £7.4 bn in GVA in 2013 and for 162,000 jobs in 2015. Physics-based industries in Northern Ireland generated a turnover of £8.7 bn in 2013, but when indirect effects are considered, overall turnover was £19.7 bn.

Also at the launch were the IOP’s chief executive, Professor Paul Hardaker (pictured above), and the IOP in Ireland’s policy adviser, Dr Sheila Gilheany.