Special Feature: Sizing Up Nano

The single hardest aspect of starting a career in nanoscience may be just figuring out what it is. That's because, as Robert F. Service observes in the lead story in this week's feature, "nano" isn't an industry or a scientific field. It's a scale--one where interesting things are happening in a wide range of scientific disciplines, from microbiology to microprocessors. It's also a scale at which scientists have learned, in recent years, how to manipulate matter. And that's why nanotechnology is hot.

So just how hot is it? For one thing, it's one of very few emerging scientific topics that frequently pass the lips of people who aren't scientists. In the first 6 months of this year, the word "nanotechnology" occurred in 32 different articles in The New York Times, for example. Over the same 6-month period a decade earlier, the word appeared in the Times just three times. So how many times will the term occur, say, 5 years from now? And more to the point, how many of those mentions will be in the newspaper's employment section?

It's a reasonable assumption that career prospects in a hot field are better than they would be in a cold one, but it's only an assumption. We wanted to do better than just make assumptions, so we turned to three accomplished writers--U.S.-based Service, who frequently writes about nanotechnology for Science magazine; Kate Travis, our contributing editor for northern Europe; and London-based Amarendra Swarup, one of the 2004 winners of The Daily Telegraph/Bayer Science Writing Awards, who wrote about Escaping the Postdoc for us in June and contributed to our research opportunities in India feature. We asked them to explore career prospects in nanoscience and nanotechnology.

In Starting Small, Service concludes that there are indeed opportunities in nano for people with scientific training. The field may well be overhyped, but money is pouring in, and it seems to be at a stage in its development where many of the jobs are for researchers instead of, say, people who work on production lines. Service also asks--and answers--whether it's best to pursue interdisciplinary training or to earn your chops in an established discipline.

Travis, meanwhile, analyzes a recent nanotechnology skills survey and concludes that, although there's no detailed consensus on what skills the industry is looking for, there are some broad themes. She tells us what they are.

Finally, in How Will Nanotech Fare in Europe? , Swarup concludes that, although industry may have been a little slow to catch on, government funding for nanotechnology is generous, and the career prospects for current and future European nanotechnologists seem strong.

Funding your work in nanotechnology

The interdisciplinary nature of nanoscience means funding for research or training in this field can come from a variety of sources, although most sources are likely to be government agencies. Here are a few examples of grants now available (as of September 2007), as well as links to check periodically for more complete and up-to-date list of opportunities.

National Institutes of Health: Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in Biology and Medicine (R01). This program funds basic research in nanoscale structures, processes, and systems for eventual biomedical applications. The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH's) interest in nanoscience cuts across nearly all of NIH's institutes, and the announcement for the program spells out the interests of each institute in these investigations. The R01 funding mechanism is NIH's main vehicle for basic research, with three deadlines for applications throughout the year. The next application deadline for this program is 22 October 2007.

National Institutes of Health: Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in Biology and Medicine (R21). Like its R01 counterpart, this opportunity funds basic nanoscience research but focuses more on higher-risk exploratory studies. In this case, the announcement specifically encourages researchers in physics, mathematics, chemistry, computer sciences, and engineering who may be new to NIH to submit proposals. Like the R01 process, this program has three deadlines throughout the year, with the next deadline set for 22 October 2007.

American Health Assistance Foundation: National Glaucoma Research. American Health Assistance Foundation (AHAF) offers grants for a maximum of 2 years and $50,000 per year for investigations into glaucoma, with nanotechnology being one of the disciplines considered. The foundation prefers to fund projects that have few alternative sources of funding and thus looks for junior researcher with new labs or more established investigators with more innovative projects. For this program, AHAF accepts proposals from researchers worldwide. The deadline for proposals is 16 November 2007.

Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education: Fusion Energy Sciences Fellowship Program. This fellowship is aimed at students in the United States seeking to supplement their educations in fusion energy with practical research experience in nanotechnology and other physical sciences, mathematics, or engineering. The program funds research by senior undergraduate students or graduate students in their first 2 years of study. Participants in the program also have the opportunity to attend practicums and professional meetings. The next deadline for applications for this annual program is 31 January 2008.

More funding opportunities in nanotechnology:

Unsolicited proposals

Both the National Science Foundation and NIH accept research proposals that are not solicited or announced in their various funding announcements. You can read about these agencies' processes for unsolicited proposals on the NSF and NIH Web sites.

--Alan Kotok

Jim Austin is the editor of Science Careers.

Comments, suggestions? Please send your feedback to our editor.

Image: Courtesy, NSF. Credit, Raymond Ashoori, MIT.

DOI: 10.1126/science.caredit.a0700133

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