Goal Three Objectives

Goal 3: Develop and sustain educational resources, a skilled workforce, and a dynamic infrastructure and toolset to advance nanotechnology.

As detailed in the 2014 NNI Stragegic Plan, the objectives for this goal are as follows:

3.1. Sustain outreach and informal education programs in order to inform the public about the opportunities and impacts of nanotechnology.

3.1.1. Develop and publish educational and informational materials appropriate for informing the public at large, including students.

3.1.2. Establish and maintain mechanisms, such as informational networks, for disseminating and collecting educational materials at all relevant educational levels.

The potential of nanotechnology R&D to result in innovative, cross-cutting discoveries and products should be harnessed to ignite students’ enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) topics and careers. Additionally, NNI agencies will support a mix of established and novel approaches to engage and inform all segments of the public to help them understand the basic principles of nanoscale science. This knowledge will allow the public to appreciate the opportunities presented by nanotechnology as well as its potential impacts on the environment, health, and safety (EHS) and its ethical, legal, and societal implications (ELSI) (see Goal 4 for more information on EHS and ELSI considerations). Agencies will continue to partner with public and private organizations in order to create informal educational materials such as exhibits, brochures, periodicals, radio and television programming, and other educational mass media.

3.2. Establish and sustain programs that assist in developing and maintaining a skilled nanotechnology workforce.

3.2.1. Develop, publish, and disseminate nanotechnology educational materials for educating and training the workforce, appropriate for all relevant education levels, from vocational to professional.

3.2.2. Continue to provide opportunities for practical training experience for students in federally supported nanotechnology facilities.

3.2.3. Encourage education about the areas of convergence between nanotechnology and other related scientific disciplines, such as biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science.

The demand for technicians and research scientists to work in nanotechnology-related industries is expected to increase as research on and commercialization of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) and nanotechnology-enabled products continues to mature. Given the interdisciplinary nature of nanotechnology, education programs should provide opportunities for students to acquire the skills to think and collaborate across boundaries in addition to building deep technical knowledge. In order to prepare high school graduates for careers in nanotechnology-related industries, the NNI agencies will work collaboratively to support the development of K–12 education that incorporates problem-based and integrative teaching, where appropriate. With the support of NNI agency-supported centers, colleges and universities have been offering undergraduate minors and majors, teacher training, and postgraduate programs in nanoscale science and engineering. International standards and best practices (e.g., for safe handling of ENMs in the laboratory, as described in Goal 4) will help to inform these developments. Information on nanotechnology and nanoscience-based career opportunities and workforce needs will support the pursuit of this objective. Online resources should be utilized to supplement classroom training and to help disseminate information about careers and formal education programs in nanotechnology.

3.3. Provide, facilitate the sharing of, and sustain the physical R&D infrastructure, notably user facilities and cooperative research centers.

3.3.1. Establish regular mechanisms to determine the current and future infrastructure needs of users and stakeholders of these facilities and centers.

3.3.2. Develop, operate, and sustain advanced tools, infrastructure, and user facilities (including ongoing investment, staffing, and upgrades).

Robust nanotechnology R&D and technical advancement requires the support of state-of-the-art physical infrastructure that is widely accessible. As nanotechnology rapidly advances, shared-use facilities must continuously refresh their equipment to meet the evolving needs of users from industry, academia, and government. Some of the specialized capabilities, equipment, and structures needed for nanoscale science R&D are prohibitively expensive for small enterprises and educational institutions. Sustained and predictable access to a broad range of state-of-the-art instrumentation and facilities for synthesis, processing, fabrication, characterization, modeling, and analysis of nanomaterials and nanosystems, including bio-nanosystems, is needed to achieve this objective. In many cases, no single researcher or even single institution can justify funding the acquisition of and support for all necessary tools, and therefore user facilities that provide access to researchers from multiple sectors serve a critical role. Such facilities enable and accelerate commercialization of R&D by co-locating a broad suite of necessary nanotechnology tools, maintaining and replacing these tools to keep them at the leading edge, and providing expert staff to ensure the most productive use of the tools. The facilities also work to create the next generation of nanoscale fabrication methods and measurement instruments. Finally, the facilities provide a setting for hands-on training of the next generation of nanotechnology researchers and endeavor to create a community of shared ideas by mixing researchers from different disciplines and from different sectors, including industry, academia, and government.

The extensive infrastructure established by the NNI agencies will be upgraded and sustained based on evaluations of the need and capacity requirements. International best practices should be incorporated into the current infrastructure, as appropriate. Extensive publicity and dissemination of information will help to engage nanotechnology researchers and developers, especially from small and medium enterprises, to ensure that this infrastructure is accessible to all and well utilized.