The research wing of Waterford Institute of Technology today becomes the first official research institute in the southeast when it is renamed after one of the country's most distinguished scientists.

WIT’s Telecommunications Software and Systems Group (TSSG), which has been carrying out groundbreaking research across a number of scientific fields for years, will become the Walton Institute for Information and Communication Systems Science.

The renaming ceremony will be performed by Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris during an online ceremony this afternoon.

Among the projects the institute is focusing on at the moment is one into neurodegenerative disorders as well as digital DNA storage, virtual reality, and using ICT for Covid-19 related research.

Today’s development the culmination of a three-year process which included rigorously benchmarking the organisation against international standards.

TSSG was founded in 1996 as an academic research centre and is now home to over 80 researchers, with over 300 industry partners and more than 750 global partners. It is part of four Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Research Centres.

In the last five years, it has secured funding in excess of €120m under EU Programmes, making it one of the most successful ICT research institutes in Ireland.

Additionally, it has secured more funding from Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation programme, than all other Irish academic and industry organisations who participate in European ICT projects combined.

The research institute, the first of its kind in the South East region, is named after Dungarvan-born physicist Dr Ernest Walton.

Walton Institute co-directors Dr Sasitharan Balasubramaniam and Kevin Doolin said: "Formally announcing our Institute designation today is a culmination of three years of effort from the team in TSSG and WIT’s research office.

"Cutting edge research is at the heart of everything we do. Evolving from TSSG, Walton Institute will focus on redefining multi-disciplinary ICT research that can result in major impact for society while encouraging a unique environment that will support researchers who want to pursue ground-breaking research."

President of WIT Professor Willie Donnelly said TSSG has acted as a "catalyst" for economic foundation since its establishment.

"The application of its research knowledge to the creation of regional economic development in partnership with the regional stakeholders has resulted in the creation of a sustainable ICT sector in the South East which employs over 3,000 people.

Dr Mark White, vice-president of Research, Innovation and Graduate Studies in WIT said that central to the institute’s mission "is the delivery of real socio-economic value and impact to our community, enabling the long- term competitiveness of the south-east and the entire country."

Who was Ernest Walton?

Ernest Walton was born in the Abbeyside area of Dungarvan in 1903 and to this date Walton Park in the Co Waterford town bears his name.

It was in the area of nuclear physics that he made his reputation, becoming the first scientist to split the atom in 1932, with John Cockcroft from England.

The two were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1951 and Walton remains the only Irish person to win a Nobel Prize for science.

Born in Strandside South in Abbeyside, Ernest Walton was the son of Anna Sinton and Methodist minister Rev John Walton. Because of the requirements of Rev Walton's ministry, the family moved from place to place every few years and as well as Dungarvan, lived in Rathkeale in Limerick and Monaghan, among other areas.

As a child, Ernest attended different day schools before being sent to board at the Methodist College in Belfast and he was awarded a scholarship to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1922, to study physics and maths.

He undertook postgraduate research in 1926 and won a scholarship the following year to study at Cambridge University, under the supervision of Nobel laureate Ernest Rutherford, at the renowned Cavendish Laboratory.

Rutherford had been studying the structure of the atom and trying to establish how to artificially produce a steam of high-energy particles - alpha particles - which he had identified being emitted from radioactive substances as they disintegrated.

Walton, along with John Cockcroft, spent three years building a "linear accelerator" which would use protons from small atoms, such as Hydrogen ions, in a high-voltage beam to try to split lithium atoms and release energy.

This eventually happened on April 14th, 1932, when Walton, confirmed by Ernest Rutherford, saw flashes on a fluorescent screen which they identified as pieces of nucleus from the lithium atoms, creating helium nuclei.

This was described as "splitting the atom" and caused worldwide interest in the scientific community.

When an atom is split it releases the energy which was present in the atom’s nucleus, keeping its particles called protons and neutrons together. In enough quantities, such as if the release of particles can split further atoms, in a chain reaction, to create more energy. This is nuclear fission and went on to be used in areas such as nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons.

Ernest Walton came back to Trinity College as a professor, remaining there for many years. He served as a committee member with the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards, the Royal City of Dublin Hospital, the Royal Irish Academy, the Royal Dublin Society, and Wesley College in Dublin.

Walton Park in Abbeyside today includes a children’s playground and recreational areas, and is on the Waterford Greenway route, with views across Dungarvan Bay, while a plaque in Dungarvan’s Grattan Square carries a diagram representing "splitting the atom," in the scientists’s honour.

Dr Ernest Walton was given a civic reception by the town in 1989, when the park was officially named, and died in Belfast in 1995. He is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin.