“Nanotechnology will let us build computers that are incredibly powerful. We’ll have more power in the volume of a sugar cube than exists in the entire world today.” – Ralph Merkle, nanotechnology researcher and cryptographer, 1997
Given the hype surrounding the potential applications of nanotechnology, it’s quite understandable that many students are interested in studying the field in college. At a recent admitted student event (*shout out to Nate and his friend Alicia*), I spoke with one high school senior (not Nate…or his friend…) who was concerned that MIT did not offer any majors or minors in nanotechnology. Rest assured that there are countless opportunities to learn about nanotech. Given the vague definition of the term (think of how many things are on the nanoscale) and its interdisciplinary nature, you can be in practically any science/engineering major and get exposure to the field. I’ll try to give a brief overview of some nanotech-related classes and research experiences.
Just to whet your appetite, MIT has some of the best nanotech research around!
On the bio-nanotech side:
Yesterday, in my class called “Designing and Sustaining Technology Innovation for Global Health Practice,” (HST.939) we had a lecture by the world-famous biomedical engineer and MIT professor Robert Langer. He’s won almost every science/engineering award available, and is famous for his use of polymers for controlled drug delivery. If listening to him speak about his research doesn’t get you jazzed up about biomedical research, then I don’t know what will.
My senior thesis project is on nanoparticles and I’m doing it in the Lab for Multiscale Regenerative Technology, led by Prof. Sangeeta Bhatia. She has done really cool work with designing injectable multifunctional nanoparticles for cancer treatment, among other things. My previous UROP was in the BioInstrumentation Lab and there is nanotech research going on there, too. For example, one grad student is developing polymer nanowires for implantation in the brain.
Within the Biological Engineering department, researchers in the Lang Lab use a laser “tractor-beam” to manipulate single molecules and cells (and I had used a similar setup to manipulate and assemble nanowires at the National Institute of Standards and Technology). The Hamad-Schifferli Group is attaching DNA and proteins to nanoparticles with applications in therapy and disease diagnosis.
On the physical science side:
Professor Mildred Dresselhaus, Institute Professor and Professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering, was a carbon nanotube pioneer. She is now “developing innovative materials for controlling temperatures that could lead to substantial energy savings by allowing more efficient car engines, photovoltaic cells and electronic devices.” (News Office) MechE professor Gang Chen is trying to increase energy efficiency using nanotechnology. Professor Angela Belcher of the Material Science department combines chemistry, biology, material science, and electrical engineering to engineer biomaterials for electronic and medicinal applications. MIT also has an Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology that is led by Material Science professor Ned Thomas.
Hopefully you get the picture…the list above is by no means exhaustive and it’s absolutely astounding to see the plethora of cutting-edge research happening on campus. I think the most valuable way to explore the field is to get a UROP in one of the many labs that do nanotech research. If you’re looking for a more formal education, there are many classes available. The majors with the most obvious connection to nanotechnology are Mechanical Engineering, Material Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Biology, and Biological Engineering.
There are categories of classes that fall under “MEMS and Nanotechnology” within each of the following majors, such as…
Within the Mechanical Engineering major:
-2.370 Molecular Mechanics: Introduction to the fundamentals of molecular modeling in engineering, with emphasis on mechanical engineering applications. Discussion of molecular approaches to modern nanoscale engineering problems. Introduction to molecular simulation.
-2.674 Micro/Nano Engineering Laboratory (New): Concepts, ideas and enabling tools of nano science and engineering taught through projects which include learning about MEMS, microfluidics, nanomaterials and characterization tools such as SEM, TEM, STM and AFM. Designed for undergraduates who want to pursue study in micro/nano technology.
-2.372J Design and Fabrication of MEMS: Introduction to microsystem design.
-2.391J Submicrometer and Nanometer Technology: Surveys techniques to fabricate and analyze submicron and nanometer structures, with applications. Undergraduates with permission of instructor.
Within the Material Science and Engineering major:
-3.052 Nanomechanics of Materials and Biomaterials: Latest scientific developments and discoveries in the field of nanomechanics, i.e. the deformation of extremely tiny (10-9 meters) areas of synthetic and biological materials.
-3.063 Polymer Physics: The mechanical, optical, and transport properties of polymers are presented with respect to the underlying physics and physical chemistry of polymers in melt, solution, and solid state.
-3.155J Micro/Nano Processing Technology (Same subject as 6.152J): Introduces the theory and technology of micro/nano fabrication.
Within the Electrical Engineering department:
6.701 Introduction to Nano Electronics (New): Quantization, wavefunctions and Schrodinger?s equation. Introduction to electronic properties of molecules, carbon nanotubes and crystals. Energy band formation and the origin of metals, insulators and semiconductors. Ballistic transport, Ohm’s law, ballistic versus traditional MOSFETs, fundamental limits to computation.
Within the Biological Engineering department (basically every class involves nanoscale phenomena…):
20.342 Molecular Structure of Biological Materials: Basic molecular structural principles of biological materials. Molecular structures of various materials of biological origin, including collagen, silk, bone, protein adhesives, GFP, self-assembling peptides. Molecular design of new biological materials for nanotechnology, biocomputing and regenerative medicine.
20.361J Molecular and Engineering Aspects of Biotechnology” Biological and bioengineering principles underlying the development and use of recombinant proteins as therapeutic drugs; fundamentals of therapeutic protein action, including cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions and intracellular signaling pathways; classes of protein therapeutics; post-translational processing and secretion of proteins; gene cloning and expression in mammalian cells; physiology of cell growth and in vitro cultivation; site-specific mutation of proteins; protein pharmacology and delivery.