What’s New in Nanotechnology?

There is some impression out there that “nanotechnology” (and our Nanotechnology Engineering program) is all very research-oriented, with no practical applications or career prospects yet.  Graduates can only look forward to doing lab research or a PhD degree.  Those are certainly potential paths, but not the only ones by any means.

Nanotechnology has been around for about 30 years (see it’s history).  In many ways, it’s just a specialized way of approaching Materials Science/Engineering, and there are already over 1,500 products on the market that incorporate nanotechnology.  Making products requires more than just lab research, and one of the reasons we launched our Nanotechnology Engineering program was in response to industry needs for people with this expertise.

It also seems that the nanotechnology area is one where there is a lot of room for innovation and entrepreneurship by our undergraduate students.  Here are a few recent examples (mainly based on senior design projects) that have led to start-up companies:

It’s interesting to see what creative new ways that nanotechnology can be used to make new products or improve existing ones.  In my own research lab we are working with companies to develop novel test methods, based on nanotechnology, for detection of water contamination, and this is on the verge of commercialization.  Some day soon I’ll finish a post on that topic.

So for a high school student thinking about different career paths, don’t exclude Nanotechnology Engineering if you’re interested in materials and commercial product development.  It’s not all theory, lab work, and graduate research.

7 thoughts on “What’s New in Nanotechnology?

  1. Professor Anderson,

    I’m happy to see that you are taking on the challenge of communicating the merits of the Nanotechnology to prospective students. I’m a big fan of undergraduate engineering programs that connect students to ‘fundamental research”, especially at world-class research universities like U of Waterloo. I resist the temptation to highlight the career readiness of these program; I prefer to let “self-selection” work its magic so that students who are primarily curiosity driven end up with other students who are curiosity driven. Also (in my opinion) 18 year olds who enter co-op engineering programs that provide 5 to 6 years for career exploration/development/practice do not need to concern themselves with the challenges/uncertainty of matching program choice to expected industry/employment sector outcomes. Actually, I think that Nanotechnology and Systems Design Engineering are the most interesting programs at Waterloo because their career pathways are less “transparent” and, perhaps, more “open”.

    International Student Enrolment in Nanotechnology

    However, I have observed that international students, in particular (but not exclusively) can have a hard time understanding that there does not need to be a tradeoff between being curiosity led and employment ready. I notice (according to Waterloo Engineering 2013/14 enrolment data) that there are relatively low numbers of international students enrolled in Nanotechnology (less than 10%) and Systems Design (less than 5%) – please correct me if I misread the numbers.


    Could you do a post that highlights the experiences of a one or two graduating Nanotech (and Systems Design as a follow-up post) students, whose stories would describe how inquiry/research and career development/entrepreneurship can be harmonized over 5 to 6 years at Waterloo Engineering?

    Thanks again,

    Philip Varghese

    • Yes, there are relatively fewer international students in nanotechnology and systems design engineering. The “traditional” engineering programs like mechanical, electrical, chemical, and civil trend to attract the most international applicants, probably because those disciplines exist world-wide. Yes, I agree that students shouldn’t focus too much on trying to predict industry opportunities half a decade in the future. A student doing something they like and are interested in will usually find a good career path, no matter what.

  2. Hello,
    I would like to know if I need to do Chemistry up until my final year at high school for entry into all engineering programs. I would have done it at O’Level and AS Level and I do not intend to pursue it next year. Specifically, I would like to know if I need to do Chemistry to A Level in order to gain entry into the Software Engineering program.

    Thank you for your consideration.

  3. The progress of nanotechnology is very noticeable. Before 30 years it was just a technology but now it has turned into a huge research organisation Hopefully in the coming future we can see more improvement in nanotechnology and it will be very helpful for us in our dailylife.

  4. Hello Prof,

    I am currently in Ontario Grade 12 applying to Waterloo this fall. Do the admissions staff look at your top 6 average and thats it or do they look at individual marks for each subject to grant acceptance.

    If one has mid 80’s Calculus and Advanced Function marks compared to mid 90 Physics Chemistry and English marks, bringing the overall average to a low 90.

    Would the math marks exclusively affect acceptance or will the whole top 6 average without looking at the math average be taken into account?

    Thank you.


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