An effort initiated by the University of Washington to broaden the scope of education in one of science’s hottest and most rapidly evolving fields has attracted a national audience of researchers.
So far, 27 universities from across the country have signed on to participate in the “Intensive Courses in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology,” offered by the UW, Washington State University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory at the lab’s site in Richland, Wash.
Fumio Ohuchi, a professor in the UW Department of Materials Science & Engineering who initiated the idea and has received $370,000 in National Science Foundation funding to launch it, says he was a little surprised at the response, but understands the reasons for it.
Nanoscience involves the study of materials and their properties at the molecular level. The discipline holds the promise of dramatically changing nearly every aspect of our lives, scientists say. Imagine clothing that repairs itself when damaged, or structures that grow and change to adapt to changes in the environment.
But teaching nanoscience effectively requires far more than many smaller colleges and universities have to offer, both in terms of people and equipment, Ohuchi said.
“It’s such a broad discipline that you have to have a mix of people teaching it,” he said. “Many universities simply can’t afford that. They don’t have the facilities, and they can’t free up that many people.”
PNNL, as a Department of Energy lab, has the advanced hardware that helps in doing cutting-edge nanoscience, said Donald Baer, a laboratory fellow in the lab’s Interfacial Chemistry and Engineering Group. It also has a team of scientists who, with university researchers, can co-teach the courses. Each scientist will be able to focus on his or her specialty within the discipline, giving students an overview of nanoscience that few other programs can match.
“For the first course, we have 12 instructors,” Ohuchi said. “I could not do this at a university. PNNL, on the other hand, is in a perfect position to do this.”
That first class will be coordinated by WSU Professor Lai Sheng Wang.
The courses are intensive and condensed, with an academic quarter’s worth of information given over 10 days. They will be held in the laboratory, with a focus on hands-on experience using advanced scientific and technological tools. The classes will be geared toward professionals seeking to remain at the forefront of the field, as well as upper-level undergraduates and graduate students.
That, according Baer, is one reason the lab is interested in hosting the courses.
“We always like to get to know the top students better,” he said. “We’re always interested in having good people come to work for us.”
The first class, “Nanoclusters, Nanomaterials and Nanotechnology,” is set for May 19-30. Other courses on such topics as “Fabrication of Nanomaterials” and “Theory of Nanoscale Systems” are scheduled into 2004. More detailed information about the courses is on the Web at http://www.nano.washington.edu/education/jin.asp
The series of courses is the latest project to come out of a collaborative agreement between the UW and PNNL. In April 2001, the two institutions formed the Joint Institute for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology to enhance nanoscience efforts in the region. Officials say they expect the course series and related programs to blossom in coming years.
“Nanoscience isn’t going away,” Ohuchi said. “The demand for people who are well-versed in the field is only going to increase. This is a good way keep up with the need.”
Three other UW professors are named on the NSF grant with Ohuchi: Tom Stoebe in materials science and engineering, Charles Campbell in chemistry, and Scott Dunham in electrical engineering.