From Fantasy to Phenom

Beyond the glitz of nanotech

When people think about nanoscience technology, they often imagine a sci-fi scenario populated by chittering Replicators, those self-copying killworks of the Stargate franchise that work mass makeovers to transform all civilized folk into more legions of their fun-crushing kind.

Another less malevolent scenario drums up a fantastic adventure of sorts where micro-midget machines meander through our bloodstreams, murdering viruses and cancer cells, or repairing injured or aging organs.

What is the truth behind the hype and glamour of nanotechnology? In short, how do we slip past nanobot plagues and miraculous nano-cures to find out what’s really happening at nanoscale? What can something as small as one billionth of a meter do for you?

The Nanoscience Technology program at DCTC is working at the nuts-and-bolts level of a scientific field that is receiving more public funding than any other area of technology. In 2008 alone, governments around the world funneled more than $8 billion into nanotech research and development. The DCTC program is busy producing the precisely trained nanotechnologists needed to support an industry with a stunning array of applications in health care, textiles, composite materials, energy, defense, electronics, sustainability and many other fields.

Deb Newberry, a former NASA physicist, is the director of the program and the Midwest Regional Center for Nanotechnology Education, or Nano-Link, both located on the DCTC Rosemount campus. Funded by a $3 million National Science Foundation grant, DCTC and Nano-Link are partnering with Penn State’s National Center for Nanotechnology Applications and Career Knowledge, also known as NACK.

Newberry reported that Nano-Link provides resources and support to colleges throughout a five-state Midwest region. Six two-year colleges in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan have partnered to develop this center, along with two outstanding regional research universities, the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University.

“The potential for growth is exponential,” Newberry said. “We anticipate that Nano-Link in partnership with the NSF will help make nanoscience one of the great foundational technologies of our nation’s future.”

One of 30 companies that helped develop DCTC’s nanotech curriculum, Hysitron, Inc., in Eden Prairie, Minn., is a cutting-edge producer of nanomechanical test instruments that stand alone or interface with atomic force, scanning electron and transmission electron microscopes, the tools that permit researchers to view objects in nanoscale—individual atoms in the case of the AFM.

Hysitron scientists develop new and improved testing techniques for current and future nanotech applications. What are some of the real-world applications in use now or under development that make nanoscience such a critical technological and economic force?

  • Nanowhiskers make clothing water-proof by causing water to bead up
  • Nanopores make shoes and boots more cold-resistant
  • Nanocrystalline silver acts as antimicrobial agent in wound treatment
  • Nanoshells will focus heat from infrared light to selectively kill cancer cells
Space Travel
  • Carbon nanotubes will help trim vehicle weight and boost structural strength
  • Nanosensors will search planets for water and life-supporting chemicals
Green Energy
  • Nanotech solar cells will slash manufacturing costs
  • Platinum nanoparticles will improve fuel cell efficiency
  • Nanowire electrodes will make flat-panel TVs thinner and more flexible
  • Nano-batteries built by viruses will be size of human cell
  • Clay nanocomposites form an impermeable barrier to gasses in packaging
  • Nanovitamins will carry nutrients without otherwise altering food and drinks
Water and Air Quality
  • Nano-catalysts will turn more toxic emissions into harmless gasses
  • Nano-filters will strain lethal viruses from water supplies
  • Smart nano-fabrics will augment body armor
  • Onboard nano-computers will enable self-controlled robotic fighting systems

Experts note that in the U.S. alone a multitude of companies, colleges, universities and government labs are working on nanotech research & development. On the global job front, more than 2 million workers will hold positions in nanotech industries by the year 2015 with at least three times that number filling support roles. The nanotechnologists from DCTC will have their work cut out for them—at nanoscale.

NANO Is Another Word for HUGE

The Nanoscience Technology program prepares students for careers in the nanobiotech, nanomaterials and nanoelectronics industries. Offered through a partnership with the University of Minnesota, the program gives graduates the skills and knowledge to land jobs in companies and corporations applying nanotechnology to product development, testing, research and development, and manufacturing design.

Nanoscience technicians work in research, production, marketing and business environments where nanoscale is integral to the industry. According to recent report, the global market for products enabled by nanotechnologies is expected to mushroom to $1.5 trillion by 2015. Other experts triple that figure.

Graduates of the program start out earning salaries in the $40,000/year range—with the potential to earn much more. A 2008 survey by Small Times magazine reports that the average salary in micro and nanotechnology in the U.S. is nearly $98,000 annually.

ASSETS Scholarships

Thanks to a National Science Foundation S-STEM grant, DCTC is offering 15 $8,000 scholarships a year over the course of four years to eligible students enrolling or already enrolled in the college’s Nanoscience Technology, Civil Engineering Technology, Networking Administration, Information Systems Management and Software Development programs.

For more information on ASSETS scholarships, please contact: