The head of CERN has told RTÉ News that Ireland could join the project for as little as €1 million.

Dr Rolf-Dieter Heuer, who is in Dublin for ESOF 2012, said Ireland could become a full member of the research and lab for €11.6m per year and for €1m it could become a part-member.

This would mean that Irish companies could bid for major contracts, and Irish scientists could get involved in the project.

Government spokespeople had earlier said membership of CERN could cost Ireland between €20-30m per year.

Martin Shanahan, head of the Government's science advisory body Forfás, said Ireland could not afford to join the group at this time but it could become involved in the future.

The Government's Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Cunningham also said he hoped membership would be an option once the country's finances improve.

Prof Cunningham said Ireland was out on a limb as the only country in Western Europe that is not a member.

As Ireland has not joined CERN to date, Irish scientists and students cannot be employed there.

Speaking at the ESOF 2012 conference in Dublin, Dr Heuer said Ireland had good scientists and should be playing a part in the prestigious work that CERN is involved in.

There are 20 European countries in CERN, which is one of the world’s most important research centres.

Romania, Serbia and Israel have recently applied for membership.

Asked about Ireland's non-membership, Dr Heuer said it was a question for Ireland.

He went on to say that he felt Ireland should belong to "our family" and he said "that's a message".

Dr Heuer is speaking in Dublin just weeks after CERN made its Higgs boson announcement.

He said CERN was now examining the particle they had discovered.

He said it looked like the Higgs but they had to be cautious. Now scientists are measuring its properties and trying to understand how it behaves.

All this, he said, takes time.

Elsewhere at ESOF 2012 Prof Brian Greene spoke about the state of String Theory, which tries to explain all forces and forms of matter in the universe.

The future of education was also up for discussion, with a panel debating the role of the PhD in the 21st century.

Delegates also heard about the challenges of transitioning from academia to business.