Physicist and broadcaster Professor Brian Cox has advised the Government not to shift the emphasis away from funding basic research towards more applied science, saying it was not a good idea.

Speaking to RTÉ Science and Technology Correspondent Will Goodbody ahead of his lecture at UCD's new science centre, Prof Cox said governments make that reflex decision when they don't think too hard and don't understand what is happening.

He said the job of universities is to generate knowledge and educate people.

However, he said it is impossible to say that by targeting particular areas it will yield a large economic return.

The British scientist said the modern world is built on the shoulders of people who played around with things and made discoveries.

But he said it is hard for politicians to understand this.

Prof Cox, a particle physicist who works at the University of Manchester and CERN, said he wished Ireland would join CERN.

He said for an insignificant investment, Ireland would become a member of the premier research laboratory in the world, which does incredibly fundamental research.

He said the work currently under way at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is just beginning.

He added that he believes that using the LHC, we are now on the verge of a real golden age of discovery in particle physics.

Prof Cox said Ireland has an impressive record on spending on research and development, adding that economies like the Irish one depend on knowledge.

He said the foundation of modern economies is investment, and he is impressed and envious of Ireland's track record.

He described UCD's new science centre as spectacular, adding that to maintain Ireland’s strong record in tertiary education, we need to be building places like the new centre.

A well-known broadcaster and science communicator, Prof Cox said the key to selling science is to make it available.

He said people and especially children are generally interested in science, so it is just a matter of giving them information, and in the case of children showing them a career path.

He said it is very important that scientists are allowed to communicate, but at the same time they must not be told how to behave, as universities are places of freedom.

As for his views on the next big thing in science, Prof Cox said you never know.

He added that as long as scientists are allowed to explore, you will get great discoveries.