Shortly after the Athlone Institute of Technology (formerly Athlone Regional Technical College), opened its doors for students in 1970 the college recognised the need for supplying qualified technicians and graduates to a growing plastics industry and was designated as the centre of plastics education in Ireland in 1971 offering National Certificates and National Diplomas in Plastics Engineering. These courses were duly approved by the Institute of Materials (The Plastics and Rubber Institute, London the then approved international awarding body for plastics qualifications) to award the Graduate status after 4 years study and the first graduates from the college emerged in 1975. AIT took over the role as the awarding body and in 1988 when the first NCEA degrees were awarded. Many of the graduates hold senior positions in the plastics industry both in Ireland and internationally, including, USA, UK, Canada, Australia and Germany.
Research in the Polymer department started in the early 1980’s with one postgraduate researcher. Slowly this built was up in the late 80’s and early 90’s with on average 4 postgraduate researchers active at any time. Most of the work then was carried out in material modification for property improvement or cost reduction. At that time, there were very little facilities available nationally for materials research and funding was hard won as many of the companies active in the Irish plastics processing sector were not involved in structured research activities.
Over the past twenty years, AIT has grown the polymer research area into an interdisciplinary hub, interfacing with the plastics industry across multiple platforms on thousands of projects. In recent years, AIT has invested heavily in the infrastructure of the research facilities with the completion of a HEA co-funded €2 million purpose built Research Hub in 2010, while large scale processing equipment is housed in the new €36 million Engineering and Informatics Building and in a dedicated APT polymer processing facility. AIT is now home to the Applied Polymer Technology (APT) Gateway, a national technology centre focused on all aspects of polymer research funded by Enterprise Ireland.