13 Aug 2021 19:05 IST

Nanotech opens up job options in variety of industries

From medicine, pharma, IT, advanced materials to textiles this sunrise tech has its applications

The word “nano” refers to the length scale (one nanometre is one-billionth of a metre) that is one thousand times smaller than the micro scale, the scale that was traditionally associated with the electronics industry. Viruses and DNA are examples of natural objects on the nano scale; in contrast a human cell can appear enormous.

The term nanotechnology refers to the engineering, measurement and understanding of nano-scaled materials and devices. Manipulating matter atom by atom and creating features on the atomic or “nano” scale is now a proven technology and there is an ever growing catalogue that utilises nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology represents an entire scientific and engineering field, broadly within Materials Science and Engineering, and not just a single product or even group of products. As a consequence of this there are several different types of nanotechnology, and many applications associated with each type. There are also several other types of nano-sized objects which exist in our environment, both natural and unnatural such as films and coatings, embedded nanotechnology, biologically natural, biological nanotechnology, natural particles, manufactured particles, nano-electrical mechanical systems.

Building on current nanotechnology-enabled applications in areas as diverse as consumer electronics, medicine, energy, water purification, aerospace, automotive, infrastructure, sporting goods, textiles, and agriculture, the nanotechnology research underway today will enable entirely new capabilities and products. Nanotechnology also underpins key industries of the future. For example, new architecture and paradigms exploiting nanotechnology are providing the foundation for artificial intelligence (AI), quantum information science (QIS), next-generation wireless communications, and advanced manufacturing.

While advances in modern electronics have long been at the nanoscale, new nanomaterials and designs will ensure the continued strength of the semiconductor industry, which powers computing, e-commerce, and national security. Nanotechnology also enables the rapid genomic sequencing and sensing required to advance medicine and biotechnology. Nanotechnology R&D has enabled early detection of emerging diseases and will lead to the treatments of the future. Past investments in nanotechnology research and development have provided a foundation to support the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Nanotechnology-enabled applications include vaccines, sensors, masks, filters, and antimicrobial coatings.

Examples of nanotechnology innovations are: a highly sensitive wearable gas sensor; nanoparticles absorbed by plants to deliver nutrients; durable, conductive yarns made with MXene; electrodes that incorporate nanoparticles and enable the conversion of sunlight to hydrogen fuel; nano-engineered pores in a membrane for water filtration; drug-loaded nano particles carried by red blood cells; and the first programmable memristor computer, enabling low-power AI applications. Nanotechnology advances are impacting a variety of other sectors including consumer electronics, aerospace, automotive, infrastructure, sporting goods, and agriculture.

Research Infrastructure

The research infrastructure, including physical and cyber resources as well as education and workforce development efforts, is critical to support the entire funding ecosystem (National Nanotechnology Initiative), and agencies will continue to invest in these important areas. Agencies use a wide variety of mechanisms to support the research infrastructure, including Centre grants, instrumentation development or acquisition programmes, training grants, fellowships, and collaborative programmes that support workforce development.

Career opportunities

The scope and application of nanotechnology is tremendous. Indian engineering and science graduates are increasingly opting for nanotechnology. Right from medicine, pharmaceuticals, information technology, electronic, opto-electronics, energy, chemicals, advanced materials to textiles, nanotechnology has its applications. Nanotechnology provides job opportunities in health industry; pharmaceutical industry; agriculture industry; environment industry; food and beverage industry as well in government and private research institutes.

Skills

One needs to have a diehard passion for research, especially to find out new structures in the field of nanotechnology. It is important to have sound analytical skills, along with a scientific bent of mind. Analysing and interpreting skills are a necessity in this field and also to accept failures in experiments as a challenge. Other necessary skills which are required are: Good mathematical and computer programming skills; adequate laboratory training for expert handling of advanced equipment; ability to learn and adopt new techniques; have a systematic way of working; a natural propensity for research work; keep track of the latest scientific news, books and research magazines; a good background of physics, chemistry, medicine, electronics and biotechnology

Job Prospects

A lot of job opportunities and a research career exists in the areas of nano-device, nano-packaging, nano-wires, nano-tools, nano-biotechnology, nano-crystalline materials, nano-photonics and nano-porous materials to name a few. It is estimated that around three million nanotechnology skilled workforce will be required worldwide by 2021. Many government institutes and Indian industries have focused on nano-materials. It is also estimated nano-technology will create another five million jobs worldwide in support fields and industries. A professional in the field of nanotechnology can easily find lucrative jobs in most of fields.

Since nanotechnology is a special branch that essentially combines physics, chemistry, biology, engineering and technology, it is opening up job prospects for students specialising in these subjects. The career opportunities in the fields of nanoscale science and technology are expanding rapidly, as these fields have increasing impact on many aspects of our daily lives.

A professional in the field of nanotechnology can easily find viable career opportunities in various sectors. They can work in the field of nano-medicine, bio-informatics, stem cell development, pharmaceutical companies, and nano toxicology and nano power generating sectors.

The major areas for the development of applications involving nanotechnology are medical and pharmaceuticals, information technology, electronics, magnetics and opto-electronics, energy chemicals, advanced materials and textiles.

Nanotechnology has varied applications in drug delivery to treat cancer tumours (without using radiotherapy and chemotherapy), solar energy, batteries, display technologies, opto-electronic devices, semiconductor devices, biosensors, luminous paints, and many others. A major challenge in this emerging field is the training for a new generation of skilled professionals.

An abundance of job opportunities awaits candidates with an MTech in Nanotechnology from India and abroad. Indian industry has focused on nanomaterials and many scientific institutions have started research and development activities in the field. The CSIR has set up 38 laboratories, across the country, to carry out research and development work in this field. Those with a PhD in Nanotechnology will have vibrant opportunities in the R&D sectors.

It is a perfect career for those who have a scientific bent of mind and a passion for studying and experimenting with the minutest molecules. Students with a science and engineering background and even mathematics with a physics background can pursue Nanotechnology as a career. Candidates with MTech in Nanotechnology are in great demand both in India and abroad.

(The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Physics and Nanotechnology, SRM University)