Alright, you have a nano degree, or will soon. Now what?
For micro and nanotechnology students looking for employment within industry, there are many diverse options. For example, aspiring nanomanufacturing engineers and technicians may find employment within electronics and microdevice fabrication facilities. Chemists and biologists may find work in nanoscience at specialized chemical, pharmaceutical, or cosmetic companies.
Through my work in analysis of this industry and discussions with several of its professionals, I have been able to identify eight fields where nanotechnologists may find employment. These are listed below:
Semiconductors and Microelectronics
There has been work at the nanoscale within the fields of semiconductors and microelectronics for many years, just it has not been called nanotechnology. In fact, the feature sizes of many components are on the order of nanometers and are fabricated using combinations of advanced chemical and top down methods in cleanrooms. Employment may be found at chipmakers and other large semiconductor manufacturers.
Materials Science and Engineering
Nanomaterials and composites, to be more specific. Already, several nanostructured materials, carbon nanotubes in particular, are making their way into composites and many of the things our favorite gadgets are made of. Jobs related to such may be found in many industries that use specialized materials (and a lot of them), including but not limited to aerospace, automotive, and sporting goods.
Here there is plenty of overlap with materials science, especially related to nanomaterials. Topics may include the synthesis of nanoparticles and the design of a process to combine them with specific molecules that make them useful. Employment may be found in specialty chemical producers, research and development, and medical diagnostics.
Pharma, Cosmetics, and Drug Delivery
A lot is all about using the concepts of nanoscience and advanced biochemistry to develop newer, better, and safer drugs to treat disease, or the next line of cosmetic products. Typically this work makes use of nanoparticles. Related employment may be found in cosmetics, pharmaceutical, or research and development companies.
Nanoscience is used extensively in nature and by all organisms. Many medical devices and biomedical engineering seek to work around these nanoscale and biomolecular processes, or to incorporate them. Employment in this may be found in medical devices and research and development, to name two.
SEM, AFM, and any specialized microscopy, spectroscopy, or processing equipment. If it is used to help advance the nano field, then familiarization with it is not a bad idea. If anyone is going to work at the nanoscale, they will need to know what they are doing, and this has led to a whole industry around the creation and maintenance of the tools that would characterize what is going on. For micro and nanomanufacturing, the work must be performed at nanometer precision over millions of items. This too requires specialized equipment. Often, employment related to nanotechnology equipment is found at specialized companies.
While MEMS may mean “microelectromechanical systems” and have features that are on the order of microns instead of nanometers, without MEMS, many nano products would not exist. Work in MEMS is in almost every technical field (except computer science) and may relate to microfluidics or any tiny sensor and device, such as the small cameras in your smartphone. Employment may be found in anything that has to do with microsystems.
Optics and Photonics
Optics and photonics covers the manipulation and control of light using nanoscience. Equipment produced by companies specializing in optics or photonics very often incorporate lasers. Specialized materials then guide the light “signals” or detect them. Many advanced nanotechnology analysis tools make use of optics or photonics as well as numerous electronic devices and microsensors. Related employment may be found at many companies specializing in microdevices, including producers of medical devices, electronics, and specialized equiptment for nano work
More importantly, micro and nano things are everywhere! The list above only scratches the surface on where to find micro and nano in industry. Other applications are in the computerized simulation of micro and nano phenomena, and supporting services to related industries.
However, I have yet to see a company post a job for a “nanosystems engineer” or “nanoelectronics technician.” More often, the most applicable job descriptions come with titles like “process engineer,” “cleanroom facility technician,” or “materials scientist,” to name three.
In regards to finding a job, there is a lot of general advice about this already online, and I do not think I need to regurgitate it. One thing I can share is that almost all employers and industry professionals I have talked with have told me they value three things the most in a new hire. These are motivation for excellence, communication and social skills, and knowledge gained through working in the field (or in technical student projects for recent graduates).