Last year, the Large Hadron Collider made headlines around the world by identifying a particle believed to be the Higgs Boson. Just last month, we confirmed this magnificent discovery of the particle crucial for understanding why objects in the universe have mass.
When I started out in my degree at Queen's University, Belfast, in 1964, I never imagined that, one day, I would end up in charge of the world's most expensive and largest science experiment.
Queen's, as one of the UK's leading research universities, gave me the platform and opportunity to go on and make a contribution to global science.
Queen's international impact on science is far-reaching, from astronomy and food safety to medicine and cyber security.
Professor Stephen Smartt, director of the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen's, is leading a team of astronomers in a multi-million pound project to discover the first-ever exploding star. Dr Bhaskar Sen Gupta, from the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering, and his research team invented the world's first low-cost treatment plant for removing deadly arsenic from groundwater, saving millions of lives.
Professor Sheena Lewis in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences has recently discovered the cause of undiagnosed infertility for millions of couples around the world.
And Professor John McCanny at the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology is leading the way in combating cyber crime.
These are just a handful of examples of how Queen's local talent is having a global impact.
Students at the university are equally having an impact on global science.
Medical student Therese White was the only student from the UK or Ireland selected for a medical placement with Nasa.
Emma McCarren, a mechanical engineering student, completed a placement year with Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains, as part of a team responsible for the design, manufacturing and testing of Mercedes Formula 1 racing engines.
Emma made such an impression that Mercedes have offered her a job when she graduates next year.
In recent years, the university has committed significant effort to encourage applications to science and engineering courses from students having non-traditional backgrounds – particularly from female students.
In parallel, the university is recognised as the leading higher education institution in the United Kingdom for tackling the unequal representation of women in science and for improving the career prospects of female academics. The enormous publicity given to scientific discoveries, such as the detection of the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider, coupled with a buoyant employment market, means that careers in science and engineering are seen as exciting and rewarding and as an underpinning strength for economic development.
It is with great pleasure that I return to my alma mater to celebrate the contribution that Queen's and Northern Ireland has made – and continues to make – to science on an international level.
I am honoured to join Professor Peter Higgs in addressing and inspiring the next generation of engineers and scientists in Northern Ireland, who, in a few years' time, may also have the opportunity to be part of the world's largest science experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.