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Nanotechnology Education

Mahbub Uddin and A. Raj Chowdhury


The challenge of nanotechnology education is to provide an interdisciplinary education to students with a broad understanding of

  • basic sciences, e.g., physics, molecular chemistry, microbiology
  • engineering sciences, e.g., mechanical, electrical, biochemical
  • information sciences, e.g., molecular coding, bio-computation

August 2001


Nanostars of Vanadium(IV) oxide. Bioengineers indicate that stars may shine above other nanoparticles for certain applications. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.


Nanotechnology will impact many aspects of daily life.

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.

Nanotechnology’s rapid growth provides challenges to our academic communities.

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

Institutions are not providing enough educational opportunities.

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.
There are few graduate or undergraduate programs.

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.

Focus on design, analysis and manufacture of nanocomponents, nanodevices and nanosystems.

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.
Learning should take place in and out of the classroom.

Teaching strategies

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 an interdisciplinary science.

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:]

Course design should incorporate science concepts from different fields.
  • 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.

Labs, research centers, educators, and mentors are key to hands-on learning.
  • 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.


Conclusion: Nanotechnology should be integrated into mainstream curricula.

[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.

Dr. Mahbub Uddin is professor and chair of Engineering Science at Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas. He received his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Oklahoma State University. He has consulted for Sunstrand Aviation Operations, Kelly Air Force Base, US Polymeric, British Petroleum, National Medical Care, Prism Technologies and Science Applications International Corporation. His research interests include Stochastic Approach in Process Design and Simulation, Failure Analysis of Polymeric Materials, Two-Phase Flow, Heat Exchanger Design, Hydrodynamics and Heat Transfer Characteristics of R-134a in Helically Coiled Tubes, Pollution control and advances in undergraduate engineering education. Dr. Uddin’s honors include Fellow, American Society for Engineering Education, 1998.

Dr. A. Raj Chowdhury has served as the Dean of the School of Technology at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio since 1996 and teaches Quality Control/Manufacturing Systems there. He received his BS Degree in Industrial Technology from Sam Houston State University, Texas, a Master’s Degree in Technology from Texas A University, and a Doctorate In Technology from West Virginia University. Dr. Chowdhury has over 20 years of academic and administrative experience at Bowling Green State University, Eastern Kentucky University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Texas Southern University. He served as the President and Chair of the Executive Board for the National Association of Industrial Technology (NAIT) and acted as consultant to numerous organizations such as AT-Bell Labs, IBM, NASA-Johnson Space Center, and Ford Motor Company.

Nanotechnology Education

It’s a small, small, small, small world

Read the companion article on this site by Dr. Ralph Merkle, which describes the potential applications of nanotechnology.

National Nanotechnology Initiative

A wealth of information about nanotechnology from the National Science Foundation, including educational resources and activities.

What is nanotechnology?

Purdue University provides a short, easy-to-read synopsis of nanotechnology. Purdue is building a nanotechnology facility that it hopes will become the “silicon valley” of the future.

Nanotechnology education

Find out about some educational choices in the nano world and learn more about nanotechnology, as described by the Foresight Institute.

  1. National Science Foundation’s National Nanotechnology Initiative (accessed Aug 01, 2001)
  2. Edelstein, A., S., and Cammarata, R., C., Nanomaterials: Synthesis, Properties and Applications, Institute of Physics Publishing, Bristol and Philadelphia 1996.
  3. Drexler, K., E., Engines of Creation, Anchor Press/Doubleday, New York 1986.
  4. Drexler, K., E., Peterson, C. and Pergamit, G., Unbounding the Future, William Morrow and Company, New York 1991.
  5. Regis, E., Nano, Little Brown and Company, Boston 1995.
  6. Kammermeyer, K. and Clark, V., L., Genetic Engineering Fundamentals, Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1989.
  7. Kittel, C., Introduction to Solid State Physics, John Wiley and Sons, 6th Edition, 1986.
  8. Shackelford, J., Introduction to Material Science for Engineers, Prentice Hall, 5th Edition, 2000.

General References

  • » Drexler, K., E., Nanosystems, John Wiley and Sons, 1992.
  • » Chow, G., and Gonsalves, K., E., Nanotechnology, American Chemical Society, - Washington, D.C. 1996.
  • » Lee, H., H., Fundamentals of Microelectronic Processing, McGraw-Hill, 1990.
  • » Bransford, J., D., Brown, A., L., and Cocking, R., R., How People Learn, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. 1999.


Understanding Science