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A nanosystems engineer works with material that is roughly 1/100,000 of the width of a single strand of human hair. The standard measurement scale for these materials is a nanometer. This is one-billionth of a meter. This is a very new and possibly a breakout career with The National Science Foundation projecting "the market for nanotechnology to be over $1 trillion annually within the next 10-15 years." It has also estimated that up to, "two million new workers will be needed to support nanotechnology industries by 2015." With growth like that to look forward to as well as the fact that over 95% of all people with this degree are employed, this is a solid career choice well into the next 100 years.
The key to nanotechnology is that materials behave much differently on the nano scale than they do an the larger macro scale. Nanosystems engineers study these differences and imagine new ways for these properties to benefit society. Some of the most prominent advances have come in the development of biomolecular injection systems that allow medicines to be delivered to areas of the body on a cellular level. Other areas that are at the forefront of nanotech are cosmetics, computer parts, green energy, digital imaging and textiles.
One of the most publicized applications of nanosystems engineering is the carbon nanotube. Carbon nanotubes are the strongest and stiffest materials ever discovered. They are currently being researched in almost every aspect of nanotech. The nanotubes are woven into carbon fibers to add tremendous strength to building materials. They are also being considered as an addition to lightweight armor that would be strong enough to deflect bullets.
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The nanosystems engineer is a researcher and inventor on the very edge of science fiction. He is the initial investigator into the microscopic interactions between various materials. Most of the nanosystems engineer's work time is spent developing 3-D computer simulations based on the observed properties of materials, although hands on work is also necessary to test theories in real world applications. Entry level nanosystems engineers will synthesize and characterize various new materials or identify new uses for nanotechnologies that already exist. They will create various reports detailing their findings and prepare invention-related disclosures for patent applications.
Senior engineers will often be responsible for procuring grant money or securing outside sources of funding for future research. They will also develop curriculum that advances the use of nanotechnology as a viable way to improve the performance or environmental impact of technologies that are currently in use.
This is the perfect career for anyone who enjoys working with models, has a penchant for puzzles and loves the idea of inventing new things or finding new uses for old things. It requires a good handle on how larger systems depend on individual parts to produce their desired effects. This aptitude is something that cannot be taught. What can be taught are the basic underlying theories and practices that have brought nanotechnology to the point it is at today. This means acquiring a bachelor's degree in nanotechnology, chemical engineering, bioengineering, materials science or another closely related field and having hands-on working experience. Hands-on work is usually provided through classroom activities, internships or work as an undergraduate assistant. Failure to acquire hands-on experience will result in a candidate not being able to secure employement in this field.
Even with a bachelor's degree, most entry level positions involve manufacturing nanotechnological devices and materials that are already commonly produced. A master's degree or PhD is required to enter into the higher echelon of companies. These cutting-edge companies often look for candidates with a PhD in physics, chemical engineering or microprocessing and hands-on experience with nano material manipulation.
Almost all employers require their nanosystems engineers to attend continuing educational programs, seminars or educational conferences to maintain their knowledge of the newest technologies being used in the field.
Most of the people employed as nanosystems engineers work in office buildings, laboratories or college campuses, although a few will work on-site with oil and gas companies. Depending on the company that employs them, an engineer could spend a 40 hour work week in his laboratory or travel the globe to several different company-owned sites.