Micro and nanotechnology is a field of national importance and therefore has an extensive network of institutions and educational infrastructure hubs. In other words, these are colleges that teach and organizations that provide material and feedback to them.
While there are many micro and nanotechnology programs at community colleges that train technicians, there are also several options for university students who wish to become engineers and scientists within the micro and nano field. Many of the university offerings are interdisciplinary courses or concentrations are available that cover nanotechnology. The National Nanotechnology Inactive has the more comprehensive list of undergraduate programs including minors and concentrations in the nano field here.
There is a small, but growing, number of 4-year universities offering degrees in nanotechnology specifically.
- UC San Diego – B.S. in NanoEngineering
- Louisiana Tech – B.S. in Nanosystems Engineering
- Rutgers – B.S. in Nanomaterials Science and Engineering
- College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at SUNY Albany – B.S. in Nanoscale Science and B.S. in Nanoscale Engineering
- University of Wisconsin Platteville – B.S. in Microsystems and Nanomaterials
A Short History
Even though the idea of nanotechnology may date back to Richard Fynmann’s famous talk in 1959, interdisciplinary studies within micro and nanotechnology has only recently came of age.1 Interdisciplinary departments, and whole colleges, came later. The College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CSNE) at SUNY Albany was established in 2001 and the NanoEngineering Department at UC San Diego began in 2007.2
Also in 2007, the first student with a bachelor’s in nanosystems engineering graduated from Louisiana Tech, which had established the first nanotechnology undergraduate degree program in the United States.3,4 “Nano” bachelor’s degree programs within the US are now also being pioneered by the College of Nanoscience and Engineering (CSNE) at SUNY Albany and in the Department of NanoEngineering at UC San Diego. Both graduated their first students in the summer of 2013.5,6
History in this exciting field is still being made, with several other institutions now in the process of creating their own.
Why Pursue a “Nano” Degree?
An interdisciplinary degree in micro and nanotechnology can be very rewarding, if done right. I have had this conversation with potential employers and educators nationwide and from what I have been told, there are several things that make a micro and nano education valuable.
First of all, micro and nano work is interdisciplinary in nature. MEMS, a term that has come to describe almost any micro-sized device inducing cell phone cameras to sensors that are a quarter the size of a dime, stands for “microelectromechanical systems” That implies that these incorporate electronic concepts and mechanical parts. Other variants include bio-MEMS, which incorporate biological molecules too. Sub-fields within nanotechnology research and many products also tell a story of the areas of study which intersect to produce them, like biophotonics, thermoelectrics, bioelectronics, and nanomedicine, to name a few. A traditional science or engineering education may only go into detail into one or two of the areas that intersect to produce nano. A nano education should cover all bases.
Secondly, industry needs micro and nano expertise. An example that was told to me was that to solve a microtechnology problem, a company would need some expertise from both a mechanical engineer as well as an electrical engineer. However, many smaller companies can only afford to hire one. This is where the nanoengineer comes in.
Also, graduate schools like experience and education within micro and nanotechnology. A growing amount of research is being focused at the nanoscale.
Making the Most of a Nano Degree
Be warned, nano programs can be highly academic. Even though the immense value of providing hands-on experience within this field is recognized by educators, providing laboratory classes for engineers or technicians is an expensive undertaking. This is not to say that it is impossible to gain hands on experience. Classmates of mine have done so through internships, student design projects, and research experience.
Graduate admissions personal are not always thrilled by straight-A students who do not know how to grow nanoparticles, or prototype a circuit. Industry employers are even less impressed. A high GPA may land you an interview, but your experience will be what lands you a job.
Also, do not overlook communication and teamwork skills. I have been told stories of engineers who pride themselves on understanding their technology instead of other people. In academia, you work in a research group, while in industry, you can expect to be part of a team in some capacity. This means interacting with others on a daily basis, and reporting to someone else (your research advisor or boss). Interacting means communicating. Good Communication leads to effective teamwork. Effective teamwork leads to getting stuff done well. Getting stuff done well is success. Therefore, good communication leads to success.
In a nutshell, a good student can relate nanoscience to the real world, is able to create a micro or nanosystem, and work with others to do so. A solid understanding of how nanoscience as well as micro and nanotechnology operates, combined with the skills to collaboratively create new nanotechnologies, or design and conduct processes to do so, may be very valuable.
With a “nano” degree, one has the option to pursue graduate studies or seek employment. I have written about potential employment in micro and nanotechnology within industry here
References for History