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Small Wonders, Endless Frontiers: A Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative
(STCs).10 These efforts appear to have been significantly enhanced by the creation of six new NSECs during 2001. Graduate and undergraduate students trained in these centers appear to be involved in exactly the kind of interdisciplinary, team-based, and multisector research environment that nanoscientists and nanoengineers must learn to thrive in.
NSF’s efforts have also begun to target more immediate technology workforce education needs. These activities include the Nanotechnology Research and Teaching Facility at the University of Texas at Arlington and the Regional Center for Nanofabrication Manufacturing Education at Pennsylvannia State University. Box 3.3 discusses the Pennsylvania program as an example of activities in workforce education.
Finally, some of NSF’s educational efforts have included an international dimension. For instance, roughly one-third of its small group awards have involved international collaborations. In addition, NSF has sponsored international trips by groups of young researchers and developed bilateral and multilateral activities with a number of countries having advanced nano programs.
Outreach and Public Education
NSECs also serve as a vehicle for a variety of more nontraditional outreach efforts to K-12 students and teachers, to academic institutions without strong infrastructures, to underserved populations, and to the public at large. For instance, the Nanoscale Systems in Information Technologies program at Cornell University has been partnering with industry to support a K-12 teachers’ institute and a nanotechnology teaching laboratory. The Center for Science of Nanoscale Systems and their Device Applications at Harvard University has been fostering nano-focused public education activities in partnership with the Boston Science Museum. Finally, the Center for Directed Assembly Nanostructures at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has developed a partnership with industry and several smaller universities, some with large underrepresented populations. Outreach efforts have also been carried out through initiatives like the NanoManipulator at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Molecular Modeling and Simulation; the Web-based network at the University of Tennessee, and the Interactive Nano-Visualization in Science and Engineering Education program at Arizona State University. Traditional NSF outreach programs like Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) have also targeted nanoscale science and technology.
BOX 3.3 Nanotechnology Manufacturing
As one of the five nodes in NSF’s national nanotechnology user network (NNUN), Penn State University and other institutions of higher education in Pennsylvania have formed a partnership with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to established a unique and comprehensive program in nanofabrication manufacturing technology (NMT). The NMT program seeks to develop a technical 2-year degree and a science-based 4-year degree, both intended to prepare the future workforce for nano-related industries such as MEMS, pharmaceuticals, biomedicine, information storage, power devices, opto-electronics, and microelectronics. The NMT program has also developed activities to increase the awareness of nanotechnology for K-12 students and teachers.
A key element of the NMT program is the sharing of a $23 million nanofabrication facility by educational institutions across Pennsylvania. By sharing this manufacturing facility, colleges across the state can offer their students some of the most current training available in nanofabrication manufacturing technology.
Clearly, as the international use of nanofabrication manufacturing technologies increases in high-tech industries, demand for individuals with nanofabrication manufacturing skills will increase dramatically. However, the global competitive position of the United States in this area could be jeopardized if the nation is unable to prepare enough technicians and scientists for these new nano-manufacturing fields. Initiatives like NMT, with its nanofabrication facility, are examples of how NNI funding is being used to meet these needs.
The MRSECs were established in 1994. They are supported by NSF to undertake materials research of a scope and complexity that would not be feasible under traditional funding of individual research projects. The ERCs are a group of engineered systems-focused, interdisciplinary centers at universities across the United States, each in close partnership with industry. They provide an environment in which academe and industry can collaborate in pursuing strategic advances in complex engineered systems and systems-level technologies important for the nation’s future. NSF established the science and technology centers (STC) program in 1987. The objective, in response to rising global competition, was to mount an innovative, interdisciplinary attack in important areas of basic research. The first STCs were established in 1989; more were added in 1991.