Lesley Yellowlees: Science enriches our lives – and our economy

THE economic storm still raging over Europe seems unlikely to dissipate any time soon. So it is timely that a Science and the Parliament event in Edinburgh today will gather scientists, politicians and economists to pool their collective expertise.

Indeed, it would be wrong to downplay the role science already plays when it comes to powering Scotland’s economy. For example, my own field, the chemical sciences sector, is our second highest exporter – second only to whisky. It directly employs 14,000 people, with annual exports of £2.8 billion.

But there is far more work to be done if we are to take advantage of the existing strengths we have in this high value industry. We need to ensure that public policy makes Scotland an attractive location for the leading global chemicals companies and ensure our SMEs have a seat at the table.

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So today’s event will see finance secretary John Swinney rub shoulders with Professor Anne Glover, the Scottish Government’s chief scientific adviser. The challenge, for one day only, is for us scientists to think like economists. Yet in many ways, science is the perfect place to start when it come to curing our economic ills.

Scottish universities have long produced some of the brightest minds in science, whose breakthroughs enrich our lives and offer huge commercial benefits.

I studied at Edinburgh University and relished my time directing students when I was later head of chemistry. Nothing gave me greater pride than graduation day, and then hearing about all the exciting things my students go on to do.

Today’s event is organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry. It has recently made me its first female president – a remarkable move for an organisation that can trace its roots back to 1841.

Science and its practitioners have always prided themselves in finding the answers today to the problems of tomorrow. I have every confidence that today we scientists can help our economists find some answers too.

• Professor Lesley Yellowlees is president-elect of the Royal Society of Chemistry.