More than 500 of the world's top scientists are in Dublin for the five-day Euroscience Open Forum event, which is Europe's biggest general science conference.

Welcoming attendees during the opening ceremony, President Michael D Higgins said Ireland's historic achievements in science were as important as those it has made in the cultural sphere.

President Higgins said "science was being reimagined in a global context."

He said that as a country, Ireland should be confident as it seeks to "push the boundaries outwards".

EU Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said Europe is facing a battle to maintain the central role of science in the region.

She said it risks being seen as a luxury in financially constrained times.

However she said cutting science budgets now would be a false economy "as science is one of our keys to recovery".

ESOF 2012 runs until Sunday and features a range of high-profile speakers, including five Nobel laureates and the head of NASA.

In what is sure to be a highlight, CERN Director General Rolf Heuer will also speak about the recent Higgs boson discovery at a public meeting on Saturday.

The European Research Council has criticised Ireland's record for drawing down European funding, saying the country ''could do better''.

Speaking to RTÉ News ahead of ESOF 2012, Helga Nowotny said Ireland did not compare well with other small countries, such as Austria.

She said that Irish universities needed to be more international and open in their outlook in order to attract the best young scientists and draw down more funding.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton has said that the funding from the EU research council is a small part of the overall EU research budget of €50bn over seven years. 

The minister said that in terms of funding draw down we are 11th out of 27 EU countries that the State is above the EU average.

He continued, that for draw down by small medium enterprises we are first out of 27 countries.

Helga Nowotny also said young scientists needed to be encouraged to apply to the Research Council for funding and universities needed to do more to support them in their bids.

The European Research Council disburses an average of €1bn to fund basic research projects annually.

Next year it will distribute a total of €1.7bn.

Its latest data shows Ireland is behind countries such as Greece, Hungary, Norway and Finland in terms of the amount of funding it attracts from the council.

Out of 25 countries that receive funding, Ireland comes 17th.

Ms Nowotny said Ireland should be in the middle field.

However, she said Ireland had made a good start and she was confident that the country could catch up quickly.

Ms Nowotny said ERC funding gave young people the chance to work on their own ideas and to be scientifically independent.

She said ERC grants could be as high as €3.5m over five years.