Sir Richard Sykes, the chairman of Glaxo Wellcome and outgoing president of the British Association, said there was a lack of interest in science at school and university.
He said the UK's future prosperity depended on discovering why young people are turned off science at school.
Sir Richard, speaking this week at the association's annual conference in Sheffield, said education was one of the key building blocks for developing an economy based on knowledge.
He urged the Government to reward good-quality teachers who could make pupils enthusiastic about science and maths.
Sir Richard was concerned that young people are turning away from science and technology at school, despite having to study science up to 16. He was also worried by the lack of interest in single-subject sciences at GCSE and A level.
He said: "It is important that the root causes of this decline are sought, and corrected, because we should have no illusion that we can sustain a knowledge-based economy without a high-quality and well-trained scientific workforce."
The public, he said, needs educating about the benefits of scientific developments. Hostility to genetically-modified foods could lead to the failure to develop new UK companies based on leading-edge science and technology developed in this country.
"Children should be taught about the nature, the methods and value of science from the earliest stages of their education. Their natural curiosity about the world should be encouraged and built upon," he said.
"Companies should support organisations such as the British Association, the museums and the hands-on science centres, and provide opportunities for school visits to show the relevance and uses of science and technology in