such as Rice, Harvard, MIT and Cornell offer nanotechnology
specializations at the graduate level. A full Ph.D. in nanotechnology
is available from the University of Washington. In the UK, Cranfield
and Leeds offer a Masters of Science in nanoscience and nanotechnology
and in Australia, Flinders and the University of New South Wales
offer a Bachelors of Science, just to name a few.
However, is it really feasible or necessary to offer a degree
in nanotechnology? Nanotechnology represents the interdisciplinary
nexus of all the science and engineering disciplines. What are
they going to teach that is not already taught in other science
disciplines besides a class introducing new nanomaterials?
can you teach someone all the scientific disciplines at the
graduate level? A student could be in graduate school for
over 10 years. A minor in nanotechnology would not be as feasible
as a minor in math or composite materials. A nanotechnology
degree would demonstrate no more proficiency in understanding
nanotechnology than having a comparable level physics or chemistry
or engineering degree at either the undergraduate or graduate
it’s time to start teaching science with a completely different
and interdisciplinary approach? This is necessary because
Nanotechnology is not a specific discipline. It is an integrated
way of observing and understanding behavior, all types of
behaviors (electronic, chemical, physical, biological, mathematical,
etc.), on the nanometer scale. Being able to observe nanoscale
phenomenon shows these behaviors can now be seen to be more
obviously interrelated. Thus nanotechnology is by nature broad
and interdisciplinary because the many branches of science
and engineering are interrelated. This phenomenon is already
realized by the scientific community before they called it
nanotechnology. For instance, chemistry, physics, biology
combine to biophysics, biochemistry, and chemical physics
or physical chemistry with similar combinations in traditional
engineering (i.e. chemical, mechanical engineering to biochemical,
biomechanical engineering) disciplines in general. Among those
majors are overlaps in types of required first and second
year classes…for instance, chemistry, physics, thermodynamics,
interesting to note is that many university professors focusing
on nanotechnology have teaching titles in two, seemingly to
us, different departments. For instance, Naomi Halas is both
Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Electrical and Computer
Engineering at Rice University. She is also co-founder of
Nanospectra Biosciences Inc, which is a nanotech company which
could be also classified as a biotech company focusing on
using gold nanoshells targeting and killing tumor cells. This
is what nanotechnology is all about.
a nanotechnology degree program is a great way to market to
and attract potential students who will pay tuition. If it
gets students interested in studying nanotechnology, I am
not too hard pressed to complain…much. We don’t have to call
it a nanotechnology degree or major or minor but it is more
Nanotechnology degree program could be a traditional science
and or engineering degree program with a focus on nanotechnology.
This could mean that you would repackage the course requirements
to include other departments.
possible course of action would be the way Materials Science
and Engineering education is approached. Some of the required
coursework can be offered in other science and engineering
departments and taken alongside those students. Solid state
physics, also offered in the physics department, is a typical
materials science and engineering is an area that has evolved
from metallurgy into the interdisciplinary discipline it is
now. Materials science traditionally included metals, ceramics,
and polymers and also includes composites as it is about combining
materials. For a while, the German scientists were saying
that nanotechnology is nothing more than materials science.
They’re right to some extent if their definition includes
biological systems. Materials science does not currently include
biochemical systems but that can be subject to change too
if we keep an open mind and can draw on basic biology and
requires a good grasp of all the basic sciences. An undergraduate
education that requires all the basic science courses, regardless
of major, is a good start. I can already hear the liberal
arts majors protesting now. I have seen some success with
courses offered as some form of “Chemistry for Architects”.
Interestingly enough, some of the leading nanotechnology pundits
did not major in either science or math nor are they deep
tech with PhD’s. Several of the better well known ones are
journalists, such as Stephen Herrara and Howard Lovy, and
are quite credible.
course, all of us should be already exposed to basic math,
chemistry, biology, and physics in our K1-12, shouldn’t we?
I was helping two bright K1-6 kids with their math homework
when I made some interesting and distressing observations.
One was an 8 year old who still didn’t know their times tables
and was about to embark on learning division. Upon further
examination, this student was still counting on fingers for
addition and subtraction. The other time was with an 11 year
old who I found out could not understand a simple word problem
that had to do with how many rolls of wallpaper would be needed
to cover a room with certain dimensions. The student didn’t
understand how to apply what they had learned in math to solve
a problem. These types of problem solving skills are necessary
for understanding science. You cannot do much of the sciences
without the math skills. I did not dig any deeper with regard
to how well they really knew their sciences because I was
afraid to find out how really bad it could be. What is happening
to these children who are falling through the cracks in our
education system? This was alarming indeed and probably not
the first time these issues have been raised.
basis of understanding nanotechnology is a fundamental understanding
of all the sciences and math. We should make sure our K1-12
kids are doing well and better as well as in addition to spending
money on higher level nanotechnology education. Without that
basic firm foundation, university level nanotechnology education
programs will not be effective nor make much more of a difference.
In the long run, nanotech education programs targeted towards
the K1-12 range to reinforce science and math skills will
produce greater results versus those targeted at the graduate
and post-graduate levels. If this is not addressed soon, the
US will continue to fall behind the rest of the world in child
is not to expect that all children will win science fairs
and end up with PhD’s in Physics, but a significant portion
of them will become the investment bankers, venture capitalists,
sales and marketing people, teachers, etc. who will be the
enablers of nanotechnology breakthroughs to society. They
will be the ones in the value chain to bring the improved
products and lifestyle to be accepted by the consumer market
in the future. It is these same people who, with better grasp
of basic science and math, will embrace responsible investments
natural curiosity for the world around them is most children’s
first introduction to science. My 7, 8 and 9 year old female
cousins and I together love visiting the interactive Sony
Wonder Technology Lab in midtown Manhattan in New York City
and the American Museum of Natural History, especially the
Hayden Planetarium. I personally have always loved the dinosaurs
and the blue whale at the museum. These children are also
taken to the Liberty Science Center fairly regularly by their
parents. Of course, as a balance, they also enjoy the Children’s
Museum of Manhattan.
Sony Wonder Technology Lab also happens to be free. Sony has
the right idea in terms of long term investment goals in the
form of businesses giving back to society and your community.
However, on the less altruistic side, Sony recognizes these
children are their future customers and an educated consumer
is your best customer. This tactic fosters brand loyalty in
these future adults having its roots back to when as kids
growing up. That type of loyalty is hard to shake as an adult.
How often do you think back fondly of your childhood experiences?
You may be the type that uses the same toothpaste brand that
you used as a kid. Interesting long term marketing strategy.
Of course, I happen to like the talking robot that greets
you while you’re on line to get in.
how do we keep these children as adults working and interested
in science and less interested in hanging out at the mall?
Make it fun. This is not that easy because as adults, sometimes
we forget what is considered fun for kids. People’s interest
in science in this sense never quite goes away. New technology
is constantly sought and being embraced by us all not just
to make out life easier but because it can be entertaining.
For example, the mobile phone and texting has invaded the
schools. Many may not care how it works but they do recognize
it is cool technology. CD’s, DVD’s…need I go on?
I notice that in cooking, which I love to do, has the same
scale up issues in terms of heat and mass transfer and fluid
dynamics as in designing chemical plants because these processes
are nonlinear. If you want to double a recipe, sometimes you
cannot just double all the ingredients, the pan size or the
cooking time. Similarly, if you want to double your product
yield in a chemical plant, you don’t just double the size
of the reactors and heat exchangers and pipe diameters and
expect to keep your cost to yield ratio minimized or the same.
I also marvel that raw egg white turns white when cooking
my eggs sunny side up because the albumim proteins are denaturing
(unfolding) then irreversibly crosslinking to form an interconnected
solid mass with the application of heat. Whipping egg whites
causes them to turn white because the whipping action is forcing
the proteins to stretch and unfold. This is also denaturing
as a result of high mechanical shear from the whipping action.
Understanding chemistry and chemical engineering makes me
a better cook.
do we keep that natural curiosity in us alive? The point is
that personal interest, challenging work with an appropriate
incentive structure will keep these people focused and interested
in advancing technology. How different is that from what all
of us strive for and what motivates us?
did say that teachers are enablers in nanotechnology. I meant
the K1-12 teachers more than the university level ones. They
are an important part of the value chain which influences
and shapes children’s thoughts and futures since most of us
spend about a 20% of our life in school.
often the public school systems are not structured to attract
good teachers for our children. The system has evolved into
an institution that protects teachers’ jobs instead of insuring
that our children are properly educated. Public school systems
are compensated by government money based on how many children
are enrolled. The more students leaving to private school,
the less money the public school systems get. This leads to
teachers getting paid less and the good teachers leave because
they can’t afford to live. As a result, more students leave.
This is a vicious cycle. I recommend overhauling the public
school teaching system to make sure the children are learning
what they need to know instead of ensuring teachers are protected.
Goals and incentives for improving teaching standards need
to be appropriate and put into place. Privatization can be
an incentive until the public school systems can raise their
standards and get their act together. Politically this will
not happen until school administrators are brave enough to
take a stand against the teacher unions and politics.
addition, the science industries do not pay as well as other
occupations and is still having problems retaining its most
gifted students. I’ve seen many a gifted Princeton PhD in
Theoretical Physics go to Wall St. modeling derivatives. This
is partly because of more attractive salaries but also because
of the lack of positions available for them in academia. For
even the most gifted students, the attraction to non-science
majors is greater so the brain drain is still happening. The
same phenomenon is occurring in teaching.
is about a new era of possibilities and technological breakthroughs
to be seen and brought about by this next generation of minds.
What is great about nanotechnology is that there lies the
hook for kids to like science if it can be conveyed properly.
The fact that nanotechnology is here and now and not 20 years
down the line can be impressed upon kids. What will interest
them more will be to make them understand that they can contribute
to the world somehow by introducing new technologies in whatever
enabling role they choose. The idea that they can make the
difference in how our world is sculpted could be of interest
to these seemingly bored and unmotivated children. This boredom
and malaise among our children needs to be eradicated and
their attention channeled into something productive, challenging
and meaningful. One way is via nanotechnology education. The
responsibility for conveying, marketing and selling these
opportunities lies with us adults.
even more basic is our responsibility to teach our children
to think. This comes about by encouraging their questions
and helping them to find the answers when we cannot answer
them. It becomes just as important for the scientists to remember
to question themselves since they are human and must remember
they can be wrong. Richard Smalley, Nobel Prize winning physicist
for discovery of fullerenes or buckyballs, advised young aspiring
scientists that “the main thing you need to learn is doubt.
Don’t believe anything you’re told without good reason and
argument. Doubt underpins science.” The type of doubt Richard
Smalley is talking about advances science by making us question
everything and everyone; it is a healthy skepticism. Sir Harald
Kroto, who also shared the Nobel Prize with Smalley, said,
“The key is to ask the right questions and check the answers.”
interdisciplinary approach, which is the key to the success
of nanotechnology, should be actively embraced at the graduate
as well as the undergraduate curriculums. No one can be a
master of all of nanotechnology. However, at least if students
are taught to be open minded about how useful all the other
technical disciplines are to a system or problem, then collaborations
across disciplines at these levels will make greater strides
in science and technology. This attitude needs to start being
taught at the K1-12 levels. This approach to nanotechnology
education can also be a metaphor how life in general should