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Where are the Nanotechnology Career Opportunities?

The very good news is that the nanotechnology field has a phenomenal future. It spreads its fingers into almost every industry. It’s so new that companies developing products and processes that use nano are scrambling to find qualified workers to help them succeed. Jobs range from those who develop nanotechnology-based products to those who sell those products.

Both nanoscience and nanoengineering efforts will need a workforce to move them forward. According to Theodore von Karmam, who founded the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “The scientist describes what is; the engineer creates what never was.”

Nanoscientists may perform research and postulate theories, whereas nanoengineers work with manipulating matter on the nanoscale. Nanoengineering is by nature interdisciplinary, sometimes involving chemistry, biology, or physics, for example, and often produces new products with never before seen properties and capabilities.

Many countries face a serious challenge in producing enough workers in the science and engineering area to support technologies such as nanotechnology. Some nanotechnology job projections estimate that nearly two million workers will be needed worldwide by 2015. The number of workers varies by country, but NNIN projections are

  • 0.8–0.9 million in the United States

  • 0.5–0.6 million in Japan

  • 0.3–0.4 million in Europe

  • 0.2 million in Asia Pacific (excluding Japan)

  • 0.1 million in other regions

The numbers are actually bigger than this, because nanotechnology will create an additional five million jobs in support fields and industries, according to one projection.

As these numbers reflect, the United States, in particular, has need of such people. Some studies have indicated that our economic growth is closely tied to technological advances; one study states that as much as 85 percent of our growth is due to technology. A weakening science and technology workforce will weaken our economy.

As other countries are upping their contributions to the science and engineering labor pool, the United States will have to work harder to catch up. Add to this the fact that our aging population is seeing the retirement of many in our scientific and engineering community, and the need to produce more workers in this area becomes urgent.

A 2006 report in Nanotechnology Law and Business reported that “Now 29 percent of all science and engineering degree holders, and 44 percent of science and engineering doctorate holders, are greater than 50 years old. Over the next decade, the number of individuals with science and engineering degrees reaching traditional retirement age is expected to triple.”

Richard Smalley himself predicted that eventually, 90 percent of all PhDs in the physical sciences would be Asian, and that half of those would be working in Asia.

Essentially these facts suggest that, though there is a need for nanoworkers around the world, the need may be greatest in the United States. Comparing U.S. scientific publications with the European Union and Asia Pacific countries, only in the United States shows a decline.

[Credit: Thompson Reuters National Science Indicators]
Credit: Thompson Reuters National Science Indicators

Current career opportunities fall into several areas where nanotechnology is being applied, including

  • Aerospace industries

  • Auto manufacturers

  • Biotechnology

  • Cosmetics

  • Electronics/semiconductor industry

  • Energy production

  • Environmental monitoring and control

  • Food science (both quality control and food packaging)

  • Forensics

  • Healthcare including diagnostics and treatments

  • Lab research (government and academic)

  • Materials science

  • Military

  • National security

  • Pharmaceuticals, including drug delivery

  • Retail (including RFID smart tags)

  • Sports equipment

Our world will probably depend more and more on scientific advances to provide food and energy and to protect our environment in future years.

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