Prince Charles clicks with professors and students and shows that he's no cyber-slouch during Belfast visit
Against a backdrop of Belfast's rich shipbuilding past, Prince Charles started a three-day visit north and south of the border yesterday by hailing the city's pioneering role in the future of the digital age.
The prince's arrival in Titanic Quarter, which has been totally transformed since the peace process, came on the 18th anniversary of the announcement of the Yes vote in the Good Friday Agreement referendum.
The heir to the throne, who will be joined today by the Duchess of Cornwall, spent several hours touring a fast-expanding cyber security unit at the Northern Ireland Science Park.
He met students and researchers from all over the world at Queen's University's Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT).
He also formally launched the facility as the first of four Global Research Institutes to be unveiled at the university.
Amid warnings that the threat from dissident republicans was high, the PSNI set up a number of checkpoints on roads leading into the Titanic Quarter before the visit and snipers took positions on rooftops in the area as five motorcycle outriders escorted the royal cortege.
First Minister Arlene Foster, East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson and the city's deputy Lord Mayor Guy Spence were among the welcoming party for Charles outside the Science Park.
The prince had expressed a personal interest in visiting the ECIT after presenting officials with a Queen's anniversary prize for their work on cyber security.
Inside, Charles was given a rundown on the groundbreaking advances in the field, including a system of stopping hackers accessing crucial electricity supplies.
Other advances have been made to anti-counterfeit devices, weather satellites and wireless medical monitors.
The explanations about the technology from Dr Maire O'Neill, the research director of the ECIT security digital system cluster, were detailed and complicated, but the prince seemed to understand the jargon and repeatedly asked questions about what he was told and what he was seeing in the models in front of him.
At one point he met more than a dozen students and full-time researchers who are based at ECIT but come from countries including Pakistan, China and Greece. They had all been told to expect a VIP visitor, but none of them knew who it would be.
The prince told Chinese student Jing Sua (25) that his English was much better than his Mandarin.
"He was very nice and had a little joke with me and shook my hand," Jing said.
Pakistani Umar Minhas, who works full-time on research at ECIT and is also studying part-time for a PhD, said the prince had shown a keen interest in his work and was knowledgeable about what was done at the institution.
"It was great to meet the prince," he added.
"I have only ever seen him on the television, so it was quite an experience to talk to him."
Full-time research assistant Fahad Siddiqui, who is also from Pakistan, said he had been excited to meet Charles.
"I wasn't expecting to meet him, but it was lovely to meet him and talk to him about what I do," Fahad added.
The director of the ECIT, Professor John McCanny, told the prince that the work carried out in Belfast was vital in a world that has become increasingly digitised.
He said: "It affects how we communicate, manage our finances, access healthcare and even interact with household devices.
"With more of our information held digitally and connected across multiple devices, significant new challenges are emerging."
He added that the issues included questions about how the information created by citizens, businesses and governments could be secured, processed and transmitted while detecting and preventing information theft, fraud and attacks.
He went on: "Through our Global Research Institute, we are committed to tackling these major challenges of our time."
Mr Robinson said the setting up of the Global Research Institute at Queen's University was a welcome recognition for the facility.
"Belfast is a growing player in the worldwide technological sector and that is going to be extremely important in the future of our economy," the MP added.