Education and Workforce Development

Support for the education of the next generation of nanoscale science and engineering researchers is key to continued progress in nanotechnology, and thus it represents another key federal role. The NNI provides support for hands-on training of undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers at universities, federal laboratories, and other research institutions. Participating agencies award funding directly to students for fellowships and traineeships.

NNI agencies also encourage the development of new curricula at various educational levels, curricula designed to nurture the new generation of interdisciplinary researchers. A variety of programs are targeted at bringing the concepts of nanoscale science and technology into classrooms for high school and even middle school students. The exciting opportunities offered by nanotechnology are providing a new incentive for students to take an early and continuing interest in pursuing careers in science and technology generally.

Equally important is the need for a workforce familiar with the concepts of nanoscale science and technology and equipped with the skills that will be needed in the nanotechnology-enabled industries of the future. NNI participating agencies support development of educational programs that have the objective of training technicians to meet the growing demand from industry, as nanotechnology applications move into more products and services. Such programs are targeted to community colleges and other institutions that emphasize development of job-related skills and knowledge.

It also is vital for the general population to be informed about nanotechnology. A profusion of science-fiction literature and video, as well as various Web sites, promulgates information and conjecture that may mislead some people into thinking of nanotechnology as either a panacea or a reason for panic. It is, of course, impossible to accurately foretell the future, especially to predict the long-term implications of nanotechnology on society. But in the near term, nanotechnology will not solve all the world's problems, nor will it dissolve the human race into blobs of "gray goo."

The NNI supports various efforts to communicate to the general populace the real promise of nanotechnology through venues such as science museum exhibits and outreach from NNI-funded research centers to elementary schools. NNI also is working to provide information on the real hazards that some aspects of nanotechnology may pose (such as the possible inhalation of certain types of nanoparticles) and to explain what the federal government is doing to clarify and address those issues (for example, information on environmental health and safety research found on the NNI Web site).[5]

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