In July 2007, UC San Diego formally approved the formation of the Department of NanoEngineering (NE), the sixth engineering department in the Jacobs School of Engineering. We now offer the first M.S. and Ph.D. degree programs in NanoEngineering to be administered by this new department. The curriculum for the new NE degree programs is leveraged on our strong research position in nano-biomedical engineering and nanomaterials synthesis and characterization activities. We have hired new faculty who will significantly enhance the degree programs not only in these areas, where we already have considerable strength, but are also quickly expanding into the rapidly emerging fields of nanotechnologies for energy and the environment.
To place our Nanoengineering curriculum plans in proper context, it is useful to define several terms related to the field of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is an all-encompassing umbrella term used to capture all science and engineering fields that operate on the nanoscale (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter). However, Nanotechnology is now regarded as being the commercialization of a technology that is based on a material whose physical scale is in the nanometer range. Therefore, Nanotechnology is a more general term that differs from the more specific terms: Nanoscience and Nanoengineering.
Nanoscience is the fundamental study of materials and systems whose structures and components exhibit novel and significantly improved physical, chemical and biological properties, phenomena and processes, because of their small nanoscale size, with relevant features between 1-nm and 100-nm. Nanoscience attempts to understand, ‘Why’ the scale of the material being in the nanometer range imparts these unique properties. Reducing the dimensions of structures leads to entities with novel properties, such as carbon nanotubes, quantum wires and dots, thin films, DNA based structures, and laser emitters. Such new forms of materials and devices herald a revolutionary age for science and technology, provided that we can discover and fully utilize the underlying principles. New behavior at the nanoscale is not necessarily predictable from that observed at large size scales. Important changes in behavior are caused not only by the orders of magnitude size reduction, but also by new phenomena such as size confinement, predominance of interfacial phenomena, and quantum mechanical effects.
Nanoengineering is the practice of engineering on the nanoscale, wherein the unique and enabling aspects of a nanoscale material or structure is used to create a device to be utilized by mankind. Nanoengineering concerns itself with controlling matter on the molecular scale and manipulating processes that occur on the scale of nanometers. There is a famous quote from Theodore von Kármám, the founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which helps to explain the difference between nanoscience and nanoengineering. “The scientist describes what is, the engineer creates what never was”. In NanoEngineering, we attempt to design and manufacture devices and systems that exploit the unique properties of nanoscale materials to create entirely new functionality and capabilities. Due to the scale of engineering involved, the field of NanoEngineering is inherently interdisciplinary that often utilizes biochemical processes to create nanoscale materials designed to interact with synthetic inorganic materials. In simpler terms, NanoEngineering attempts to manipulate the ‘growth’ of materials on the nanometer scale, mimicking the processes of nature, which could potentially lead to a vast array of revolutionary materials and products that would benefit all other aspects of engineering, medicine, and other technologies, and everyday life.
NanoEngineering as an educational discipline has now reached a similar level of interest and opportunity for graduate students similar to what Aerospace Engineering did in the 60s, Computer Engineering did in the 70s, Computer Science did in the 80s, and Bioengineering did in the 90s. In the 21st Century, NanoEngineering not only will be the discipline that underpins many engineering and science activities, its impact and enabling technologies will continue to excite and draw the most creative students, researchers, faculty and future entrepreneurs. Our NanoEngineering program will grow to keep pace with the increasing demand that we are already receiving for our programs.
The future of nanotechnology is very bright. The U.S. government has made and continues to make nanotechnology a high priority. In 2001, a federal multi-agency R&D program - National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) – was established to coordinate the multi-agency efforts in nanoscale science, engineering, and technology. The 2001 budget was $464 million. President Bush’s 2007 Budget provides over $1.2 billion for the NNI, nearly tripling the annual investment of the first year of the Initiative, bringing the total investment since the NNI was established to over $6.5 billion. These numbers are even higher under the new administration. Worldwide, governments are now investing more than $3 billion per year. In addition to the U.S., Japan, Korea, China and several European countries have made nanotechnology research and development a top priority.
Efforts in nanotechnology within industry and in the private sector have also grown enormously in the last five years. In 2000, only IBM had a nanotechnology initiative. Today, nearly all Fortune 500 companies are involved in some form of nanotechnology research and development. Private investment in the U.S. reached $1.7 billion in 2005. Some projections conclude that annual industry revenue will reach $25 billion in the next ten years. Internationally, BASF, the world's largest chemical company, devoted $221 million to nanotechnology research and development between 2006 and 2008. The German corporation opened up a new nanotech center in Singapore last year as well. The investments are part of an expansion of its global R&D activities with nanotech being one of five "growth clusters" that BASF will build over the next two years to ensure it stays competitive.
More than 20 local and national companies endorsed the formation of the Department of NanoEngineering at UC San Diego based largely on their expressed need for multi-disciplinary trained engineers, with a broad background in engineering and science, but focused on the unique enabling properties and paradigm altering functionality inherent in materials whose physical scale is in the nanometer range. In addition, these companies highlighted their need for these nanoengineers to become the team leaders on research and development projects based in nanoscale systems technologies. The specific goals of our programs are to educate and train students in Nanoscience and Nanoengineering disciplines, and teach these same students the broad engineering skills necessary to become the future leaders in this rapidly emerging Nanotechnology industrial revolution.