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Foresight Nanotechnology FAQ for Students

  1. How do I study the basics of nanotechnology?
  2. Where do I study nanotechnology?
  3. What careers might result?
  4. Where are degrees being offered?
  5. What if my university doesn't offer nanotechnology degrees?
  6. Are scholarships or internships available?
  7. How have students contributed to the development of nanotechnology?
  8. Where can I get more information?
  9. What should I do if this FAQ hasn't answered my question?

How do I study the basics of nanotechnology?

Work related to nanotechnology falls into two broad areas: the study of nanotechnology itself (which will remain theoretical, for the time being) and research on enabling technologies leading toward assemblers and nanotechnology (which can be theoretical in part, but which also have an experimental, developmental component).

The theoretical study of nanotechnology involves exploratory engineering work in a number of areas. It includes basic studies in nanomechanical engineering (the study of molecular machines) and nanoelectrical engineering (the study of molecular and atomically-precise nanometer scale electronic systems). It also includes studies of complex systems, such as assemblers, replicators, and nanocomputers. More broadly, it includes studies of non-nanoscale applications, such as large systems built by teams of assemblers.

Inevitably, more resources will go into development than into theory, because technology development will yield practical, short-term results on the way to long-term objectives. It makes no practical sense to try to build an assembler today, but it does make sense to build tools today that will make it easier to build assemblers tomorrow. These tools are termed "enabling technologies."

Promising enabling technologies fall into several familiar categories. These include:

  • protein engineering (involving efforts to develop techniques for designing molecular devices made of protein),
  • general macromolecular engineering (involving efforts to develop techniques for designing and synthesizing molecular devices made of more tractable materials)
  • micromanipulation techniques (involving efforts to extend the technology of scanning tunneling and atomic force microscopy to chemical synthesis, and then to the construction of molecular devices).

These approaches have differing strengths and weaknesses. Protein engineering can draw on a host of examples and prototypes from nature, and can exploit existing self-replicating machines (bacteria) to make products cheaply — a major consideration, where short-term payoffs are concerned. General macromolecular engineering avoids the major problem with protein engineering (proteins, not having been designed for designability, are hard to design), but at the cost of moving away from natural prototypes and requiring more expensive chemical synthesis techniques for making near-term products (thus reducing the potential market). Micromanipulation techniques promise to ease design problems by allowing direct construction of molecular objects, but they suffer from higher costs: a chemical reaction typically makes many trillions of molecules at once, while a manipulator would make but one; hence, manipulator-made products can be expected to cost trillions of times more, dramatically reducing the potential market.

All the above areas bear watching, and all will be pursued to some extent, regardless of which ultimately proves to have the biggest payoff. Hybrid approaches, combining techniques from several of these areas (e.g., micromanipulation of molecular tools), seem promising. Finally, improved computational modeling of molecular systems is a generic enabling technology, relevant to all these approaches.

If you haven't already done so, we recommend that you read Foresight Briefing #1: Studying Nanotechnology. We also recommend that you check out "The Study of Nanotechnology" by Dr. Ralph Merkle.


Where do I study nanotechnology?

A growing number of universities are offering related degree programs, and it is difficult to track new additions. Keep in mind that this list may be incomplete, and you should contact specific universities for more information.

Academic Institutions offering Nanotechnology and related courses or degree programs:

Arizona State University
Center for Solid State Science, Nanostructure Research Group

Brown University
Nano Micromechanics Laboratory

Materials and Process Simulation Center

University of Cambridge (United Kingdom)
Cavendish Laboratory
Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory

Clemson University
The Laboratory for Nanotechnology

Cornell University
The Nanobiotechnology Center
Cornell Nanofabrication Facility Home Page

Delft University of Technology
Faculty of Chemical Technology and Materials Science

Flinders University (Adelaide Australia)
Bachelor of Science in Nanotechnology (Honours)
School of Chemistry, Physics & Earth Sciences: Nanotechnology Research

Florida Institute of Technology
Division of Engineering Sciences
Contact: Professor Jim Brenner

Georgia Institute of Technology
Nanocrystal Research Laboratory
Nanostructure Optoelectronics

Iowa State University
Ames Laboratory Condensed Matter Physics Group (Department of Energy)

Kaunas University of Technology
Research Center for Microsystems and Nanotechnology

Kyushu University
Nano Integration Technology Laboratory
Division of Nanoelectronics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
NanoStructures Laboratory

Michigan State University
The Nanotube Site

Middle Tennessee State University
Materials Theory and Molecular Design Project

New Jersey Institute of Technology
Nonlinear Nanostructures Laboratory (NNL)

New York University
Nadrian C. Seeman's Laboratory

North Carolina State University
Christopher B. Gorman's Home Page

Nottingham Trent University

Osaka University
Nanoparticle Group

Pennsylvania State University
Nanotechnology in the Weiss Group

Princeton University
Nanostructure Laboratory

Rice University
Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology

Seoul National University
Center for Science in Nanometer Scale, ISRC

Stanford University
Stanford Nanofabrication Facility

Technische Universitat Berlin
Project Nanostructures

University of Arizona
Nanomechanics and Mesoscopic Physics
Prof. Srin Manne's AFM Lab

University of Chicago
University of Chicago Materials Center

University of Cincinnati
Nanoelectronics Laboratory

University of Connecticut
Advanced Technology Center for Precision Manufacturing

University of Delaware
Department of Chemical Engineering -- Center for Molecular Engineering Thermodynamics
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering -- Center for Nanomachined Surfaces

University of Glasgow
Nanoelectronics Research Centre
Nanospec Scrolling
Kelvin Nanotechnology Home Page

University of Greenwich
Nano-Science Simulation Group

University of Hamburg
Nanostructure Physics Group

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Beckman Institute Home Page
Scanning Tunneling Microscopy Group

University of Lausanne
Nanostructure Research

University of Leeds
Centre for Nano-Device Modelling

University of Michigan
Center for Biologic Nanotechnology

University of Nebraska
Department of Electrical Engineering, Quantum Device Laboratory

University of Newcastle
Centre for Nanoscale Science and Technology

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
North Carolina Center for Nanoscale Materials
The Nanomanipulator Project

University of Notre Dame
Center for Nano Science and Technology
Engineering Molecules for a New Technology

University of Southern California
Laboratory for Molecular Robotics

University of South Florida
Center for Molecular Design & Recognition

University of Texas at Austin

University of Tokyo
Nanotechnology; Micro-system; Micro-assembly

University of Toronto
Energenius Centre for Advanced Nanotechnology

University of Twente
MESA, NanoLink

University of Washington
Center for Nanotechnology

University of Wisconsin Madison
Department of Physics: Nanowires
Materials Research Science and Engineering Center
Seed Project, Magnetic Nanostructures

Washington State University
Nanotechnology Think Tank

Yale University
Department of Engineering Research Centers Page
Microelectronics and Optoelectronic Materials and Structures


16. What careers might result?

Numerous avenues exist for pursuing a career in molecular nanotechnology, dependent of course on the fields of study selected. In order to provide you with information that is specific to your situation, we ask that you take the time to examine the materials listed below and let us know the particular areas that coincide with your interests.

Once you've familiarized yourself with the potential paths in the development of molecular nanotechnology, pick up a copy of the book Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation by Dr. K. Eric Drexler. You may order this online and make a small donation to Foresight as part of the Amazon Associates Program, which donates a portion of each sale to the referring organization. Please note: it is not necessary to read all of Nanosystems before proceeding to the next step.

Finally, we may be able to recommend specific individuals, who may be able to provide you with direct assistance in your search for career opportunities. You will need to know what path of development most suits your interests, and armed with that information, we may be able to assist you with your search. Contact Foresight when you are ready to proceed.


Where are degrees being offered?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to manage the number of universities offering degree programs in nanotechnology. Foresight has often announced the creation of new degree programs in the quarterly Foresight Update, but has not yet undertaken the task of assembling these into a master document. Steve Lenhert of has assembled some of this information. See specifically the sections on Nanotechnology Courses and Nanotechnology Centers.

You may also want to check out the University of Maryland's nanotechnology database.


What if my university doesn't offer nanotechnology degrees?

If your university does not offer a specific degree program, it is possible to obtain an excellent grounding by studying some of the underlying aspects of this widely-disciplinary science (see the section above, How do I study the basics of nanotechnology?). You may also take a more proactive stance by encouraging your university to develop a nanotechnology degree program.


Are scholarships or internships available?

Scholarships are available, and we will highlight as many as we can in this space. We would like to caution you however, about scholarship searches that want money for their services. If you come across one that requests money, be sure to check it out first with the Better Business Bureau.

You may want to try It is a good way to quickly and easily find information on scholarships, grants and other sources of financial aid for college.

There is also the Siemens Westinghouse Science & Technology Competition, which offers scholarships to eligible students. A successful showing in this competition may also lead to internship opportunities with the Siemens Foundation or any number of the collaborating universities, including: Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of California at Berkeley, University of Notre Dame and the University of Texas at Austin.

We would be hard pressed to assemble information related to the availability of internship programs, as they are popping up all over the country. We recommend that you check out the presentations of the Foresight Conferences on Molecular Nanotechnology for information on where research is being done. Perhaps in this list you will find a university or organization in your field of interest and in your area. We encourage you to contact these organizations directly for information on internships.

Information of this type may also be posted to Foresight's news and discussion forum, Nanodot.


How have students contributed to the development of nanotechnology?

  • In February 2001, a 27-year-old MIT graduate student won the prestigious Lemelson prize for a diverse group of designs and inventions, including a nano-assembly machine that conceivably could build a gene chip the size of a nanometer.

    Hubert said he scribbles down his ideas in the middle of the night and never goes to bed without a pen and notebook by his nightstand. As a 14-year-old, his first invention was a ''Cheater Meter,'' a pocket-sized device that would alert customers if they were being cheated when pumping gas at a service station.

    His diverse range of interests and the depth of his innovations have led to Hubert being hailed as a "Young da Vinci." While this may be a lot to live up to, we hope that Hubert will continue to spend some of his time on nanotechnology.

  • Late in 2000, the Siemens Westinghouse Science & Technology Competition reported their regional results. We would like to highlight one entry:

    "Heidi Hsieh, who competed in the individual category, developed a winning original research project entitled 'The Formation of Nanoscaled Super Zeolite-like Meso-Structures by Various Block Copolymer Matrices'...Her project, which uses nano-technology (smaller than microscopic), organizes structures into formations (similar to ping-pong balls in a package). These organized structures could impact the development of molecular electronics, robots and other molecular-sized machines. 'Miss Hsieh has pushed back the forefront of nano-technology,' said lead judge Richard D. McCullough, head of the chemistry department at Carnegie Mellon University. 'She found a way to not only make hollow shells of molecules but also put them into ordered structures and change the size of these structures. Her project produced results that until now seemed next to impossible -- but she's done it -- and it's a real breakthrough!'"

These are just a couple of examples of how a student made a major breakthrough in the development of nanotechnology, and we look forward to bringing you additional cases as time passes. If you know of a student who has made a contribution to the development of nanotechnology, we encourage you to let us know the details. Send email to


Where can I get more information?

Foresight Institute's web site ( contains more general information about the medical applications and the development of the various aspects of molecular nanotechnology. In particular, refer to Engines of Creation and Unbounding the Future. Both are freely available on our web site. Additional information is available in some issues of the Foresight Update.

Nanomedicine is becoming an increasing important and exciting field. Much of this excitement stems from the recent publication of Nanomedicine, Volume I: Basic Capabilities. This is the first volume in a series of three, and should provide a solid foundation upon which to develop additional capabilities.

We also encourage you to visit, which includes a large number of sources for related material. The Institute for Molecular Manufacturing ( may also contain items of interest.

Additional sources of information are available on the web.

You may wish to read NanoLetters, a publication of the American Chemical Society. This publication is free until June 30, 2001!

You may also select relevant keywords and search these websites:

Meetings are held throughout the year, see:

Useful books on nanotechnology:

  • Engines of Creation (full text): Accessible, describes impact on a wide variety of fields
  • Unbounding the Future (full text): Popularly-written, environmental and medical focus
  • Nanosystems: Highly technical and interdisciplinary textbook
  • Nanomedicine (full text): Extensive technical treatment of nanotechnology & medicine


What should I do if this FAQ hasn't answered my question?

We encourage you to contact our office at with your specific question, though we ask that you first exhaust the resources we provide in this document and the Foresight web prior to contacting us directly. Foresight's staff is quite small, and we receive a large number of inquiries on any given day. While we do our best to respond in a prompt and courteous fashion, delays often result. In order to receive the fastest possible execution of your query, please phrase all questions in as detailed a fashion as is possible.


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