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Career in nanotechnology? What should I major in?

  1. Nov 6, 2007 #1
    I'm really interested in entering the field of nanotechnology in the future. I'm currently a senior in the process of college application, and I know I won't be touching nanotech until I'm in graduate school. I need advice on the specific major that I need to be in in order to work in nanotech in the future. I've heard many people saying that I should major in one of the sciences, preferably physics. But, to be on the practical side, since I can't possibly predict where I'll be in four years, I think it would be a better career option if I major in engineering for undergrad and decide from there. Then the question sprouts there, I don't know exactly which engineering major I should be in that is closely linked to nanotech. I've heard material science connects to nanotech, is that true? I'm really confused and frustrated right now. I live in California and the UC apps are due pretty soon. I need to put something in that major column. Please tell me whether I should major in Physics, or engineering. If engineering, which one? Please indicate the specific major. Thank you so much.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 6, 2007 #2
    Physics/EE/ChemE are all tangential to Nanotech. However, much of the research being done in the field requires a strong background in chemistry. Majors like Chemistry, Biology, Biotech, Biochem, etc are all appropriate. Really, you want to: know a lot of chemistry, because a strong majority of nanotech research seems to involve it to one degree or another; know a fair amount of biology/physics/electronics, because they're involved in specific projects/applications. Materials science/engineering also tends to be a big one. Likewise industrial engineering. Nanotech is a very interdisciplinary field, it would seem.

    There aren't any majors specific to the field, so you have to design your program such that you end up with a background in the variety of topics that are helpful for nanotech research. I strongly recommend finding a few people doing research you're interested in and discussing your program of study with them. Don't just hit up professors, either - grad students may be able to give you particularly relevant advice, since they'll be where you're interested in being soon.
  4. Nov 6, 2007 #3
    EE is pretty close, but I find myself lacking in the physics knowledge sometimes when reading papers. I wouldn't fret too much, because you will learn much more by participating in the research and studying what you need to know immediately than trying to prepare with a major. Any of EE, ChemE, physics, materials science will provide a good foundation though.
  5. Nov 7, 2007 #4
    Sorry this is a bit off topic, but why isn't nanotech offered as an official major anywhere, is the field just too small still?
  6. Nov 7, 2007 #5
    Newish and still developing, also highly interdisciplinary.

    Programs dedicated to it exist, but are uncommon.
  7. Nov 8, 2007 #6
    So with just a physics degree and 2 college chem courses, I shouldn't be expecting to get into a graduate nanotech program?
  8. Nov 8, 2007 #7
    Graduate admissions can be pretty flexible about your prior coursework, assuming the background you'd have to make up isn't too extensive. UW, for example, has a Nanotech graduate certificate program that you're eligible to apply for after being accepted to one of the "home departments" participating in it, and Physics is among those listed. You might be able to get more specific information (and from a more experienced source) by contacting people at either of the following:

    NaNSA Chapter

    UW Center for Nanotechnology
    http://www.nano.washington.edu/index.asp [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  9. Nov 8, 2007 #8
    Oh I think you have a good chance regardless. Especially if you have research experience with nanotech. My friend at Missouri State University works on nanotech research there (in fact, it's somewhat required) and he majored in Physics and only has 1 chem course. Of course, the more chem you take, the better you'll end up being, but don't underestimate the value of the physics you know in this field :).
  10. Nov 8, 2007 #9
    Bah, I know. I am going to UW right now and they don't generally let you stay for grad school unless you have family issues (married, sick family, etc.)

    I'll try to get into this next year though, when my course load is lighter.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  11. Nov 10, 2007 #10


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    "Nanotechnology" is not well defined word. A few years ago it basically meant "very small things made in cleanrooms" (and before that "molecular robots" etc) but nowadays the meaning seems to have shifted to reasearch on e.g. nanoparticles used in sunscreen or even biochemistry (there was a letter in New Scientist a few week ago from a researcher who had just concluded that he was working in the field of nanoscience; he found this somewhat confusins since for the past 30 years he had been under the impression that he was a biochemist). Unfortunately, it has become a buzzword.

    So, it is very difficult to recommend anything unless you are more specific. Generally speakning an eduction in a "basic" science such as physics or chemistry is probably best; much of the work (regardless of the definition used) i still very much basic research meaning a background e.g. EE is probably not as useful.
  12. Nov 28, 2007 #11
    There are many universities out there that focus on nanotech. You should check out Small Times article http://www.sma-digital.com/sma/200705/?pg=20" [Broken] Some of them even provide specialization or degree in nanoengineering or nanoscience at undergrad level.

    Nanotech is a highly interdsciplinary field, you can major in any of EE, physics, chemistry, Chem Eng, MSE, and biomedical engineering and end up doing nanotech so it's up to your interest and aptitudes.

    If you are willing to do undergraduate study outside US, consider Engineering Science program at University of Toronto in which you can specialized in nanoengineering after 2nd year. It's a bit biased toward MSE but I mostly enjoy being in the program so far with just one more term to go. PM or email me if you want more information about the program. You can also visit http://nanoclub.ca" [Broken] which is run by the students in my program.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  13. Nov 28, 2007 #12
    One of my friends is in an undergraduate program in nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo.
  14. Nov 28, 2007 #13
    If I may chime in, I was tracking future trends about 6 years ago. There were predictions that biotech and nanotech will be the fields of the future. Today, I only see biotech as something that captures a large portion of the economy. I hear less and less about nanotech these days. I must admit some cool advances in nanotech such as better batteries and solar pannels. Other than that, there seems to be few significant innovation in this area.
  15. Nov 28, 2007 #14
    I would recommend materials science engineering (MSE) as a major if you want to get into field related to nanotechnology. I am currently an aerospace engineering student at Georgia Tech, and several of my friends are MSE's. Their coursework is all about developing and controlling processes at the molecular and atomic level to develop new materials or improve upon old ones. It requires a strong interest in chemstry and a good bit of calculus, as many molecular level processes such as structural deformation and heat transfer are governed by partial differential equations. If you want to see what kinds of courses you would be taking, here is their list of classes:

    http://www.catalog.gatech.edu/colleges/coe/mse/ugrad/bsmse/bsmse.php [Broken]

    Not that I am particularly advocating my university, but Georgia Tech has been constructing a nanotechnology research center. It is expected to be finished next year. The GT nanotech page can be found here:

    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  16. Jan 19, 2008 #15
    In my senior year of high school I became interested in nanotechnology. Right now I'm in my first year of college majoring in engineering physics, which is similar to a double major. Within the engineering part of my major, I am allowed to concentrate in specific field. So right now I am planning to concentrate in chemical and biomolecular engineering. Also I am planning to go to grad school.

    I can't tell you yet whether or not this will make me well-placed for the nanotech industry, as I am not at that point yet, but that's what I'm aiming for. At the very least I hope to be in a better position than the pure physics major when I enter the job market - time will tell.

    So if the college that you attend offers an engineering physics major, maybe consider looking into that.
  17. Feb 25, 2008 #16
    I am taking nanoengineering currently at the University of Alberta. I recommend the program, it's fairly challenging compared to most undergrad degrees as well.
  18. Sep 23, 2011 #17
    Not to be disagreeable but I find this to be the opposite of the truth. It seems from what I have been noticing that every day people are finding new applications of how nanotechnology could be used to better and extend our lives and technology as a whole. It goes everywhere from curing diseases to nano tubing that could provide for much lighter transportation amongst other things.
  19. Oct 4, 2011 #18
    i heard engineering physics is what u need for nano
  20. Oct 5, 2011 #19
    It is at Leeds uni. I am thinking of doing it myself.
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