Nanostars of Vanadium(IV) oxide. Bioengineers indicate that stars may shine above other nanoparticles for certain applications. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
The emerging field of nanoscience and nanotechnology is leading to a technological revolution in the new millennium. The application of nanotechnology has enormous potential to greatly influence the world in which we live. From consumer goods, electronics, computers, information and biotechnology, to aerospace defense, energy, environment, and medicine, all sectors of the economy are to be profoundly impacted by nanotechnology.
In the United States, Europe, Australia, and Japan, several research initiatives have been undertaken both by government and members of the private sector to intensify the research and development in nanotechnology.1 Hundreds of millions of dollars have been committed. Research and development in nanotechnology is likely to change the traditional practices of design, analysis, and manufacturing for a wide range of engineering products. This impact creates a challenge for the academic community to educate [engineering and other bioscience] students with the necessary knowledge, understanding, and skills to interact and provide leadership in the emerging world of nanotechnology.
Current status of nanotechnology education
The academic community is reacting slowly to prepare the workforce for emerging opportunities in nanotechnology.
- Currently, a small number of universities in the USA, Europe, Australia and Japan offer selective graduate programs in nanoscience and nanotechnology in collaboration with research centers.
- The primary mission of these centers is to conduct research and development in the area of nanoscience and nanotechnology.
- Some research centers also support an associated graduate program within the patron university.
- In addition, faculty members in various institutions conduct and manage research programs in the areas of nanotechnology and nanoscience supported by funding organizations.
In the United States, [some of the] universities that offer either graduate or undergraduate courses in nanoscience or nanotechnology are Clemson University, Cornell University, Penn State University, Rice University, University of Notre Dame and University of Washington.1
A handful of universities offer undergraduate engineering degrees in conjunction with undergraduate courses in nanoscience or nanotechnology. They [include] Virginia Commonwealth University, Penn State University and Flinders University in Australia.
Nanotechnology in the curriculum
The fundamental objective of nanotechnology is to model, simulate, design and manufacture nanostructures and nanodevices with extraordinary properties and assemble them economically into a working system with revolutionary functional abilities. Nanotechnology offers a new paradigm of groundbreaking material development by controlling and manipulating the fundamental building blocks of matter at nanoscale, that is, at the atomic/molecular level.
Therefore, in order for our students to face the challenges presented by nanotechnology, the following educational goals should be applied:
- Provide understanding, characterization and measurements of nanostructure properties
- Provide ability for synthesis, processing and manufacturing of nanocomponents and nanosystems
- Provide ability for design, analysis and simulation of nanostructures and nanodevices
- Prepare students to conduct research and development of economically feasible and innovative applications of nanodevices in all spheres of our daily life.
Nanotechnology should be taught by creating both knowledge-centered and learning-centered environments inside and outside the classroom.2 Because the technology is advancing so fast, activities that encourage creative thinking, critical thinking and life-long learning should be given the highest priority.
Nanotechnology is truly interdisciplinary. An interdisciplinary curriculum that encompasses a broad understanding of basic sciences intertwined with engineering sciences and information sciences pertinent to nanotechnology is essential. [An introductory course, for example, can include the study of DNA, RNA, protein synthesis, recombinant techniques, genetic engineering, molecular chemistry, cell biology, physics, and other fields.]3,4,5,6,7,8
[Other suggestions for teaching strategies include:]
Introductory nanotechnology courses should be taught more from the perspectives of concept development and qualitative analysis rather than mathematical derivations.
Every effort should be made to convey the big picture and how different learning exercises fit together to achieve course objectives.
Each course should be taught at the appropriate level with required pre-requisites.
Junior and senior design courses, specifically the capstone design courses, should integrate modeling, simulation, control and optimization of nanodevices and nanosystems into the course objectives.
Every effort should be made to integrate concepts related to nanotechnology into all design courses.
Interactive learning should be the hallmark of nanotechnology education. Technology can play a powerful role in facilitating interactive learning both inside and outside the classroom.
- Students can participate in nanotechnology research development projects and laboratory experiments all over the world via the Internet.
- Students should be given opportunities to work directly with established nanotechnology research centers (local, regional, national, international) to gain hands-on experience. University faculty members must collaborate with industry in order to educate and train students in the field of nanotechnology. Utilizing a team of faculty members specializing in appropriate disciplines to teach nanotechnology courses is highly desirable.
- The inclusion of guest speakers from industry and research centers enhances the quality of available courses.
[Students of nanotechnology should know how to:]
- design, analyze and manufacture nanocomponents and nanosystems
- create nanodevices for economically feasible, innovative applications of nanotechnology in all spheres of our daily life.
Nanotechnology education should be integrated into mainstream undergraduate [engineering and other related bioscience] curricula. Government, industry and university bodies should foster collaboration among themselves in order to educate students in nanotechnology.
© 2001, Mahbub Uddin, Ph.D. and A. Raj Chowdhury. Excerpts from the paper “Integration of Nanotechnology Into the Undergraduate Engineering Curriculum,” presented at the International Conference on Engineering Education August 6-10, 2001, Oslo, Norway. Reprinted with permission. See reprint policy.