Nanotechnology is widely believed to be the next breakthrough technology to alter the performance and quality of everything from electronics to energy, clothing to cosmetics, cars to cancer treatment. How we prepare our industries to embrace this revolution affects how well our state competes in a tech-savvy global economy. A key element is human capital.
Nanotechnology is estimated to create or impact hundreds of thousands of jobs worldwide over the next decade. A readily-available, well-trained workforce is essential for local companies to compete in these competitive new markets.
In September 2005, North Seattle Community College (NSCC) became the first college in Washington state to offer an Associate of Applied Science-Transfer (AAS-T) degree in Nanotechnology. The Microfabrication Laboratory at Washington Technology Center (WTC) and the University of Washington’s Center for Nanotechnology are integral partners in the program.
Both facilities, housed in Fluke Hall on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, provide students access to specialized equipment and processes for hands-on lab sessions as part of the program curricula.
NSCC’s 103-credit degree prepares graduates for entry-level technician positions in the nano/micro-fabrication and related manufacturing industries. A unique aspect of the NSCC program is its focus on real-world application. In addition to academic study in the field of nanotechnology, students take part in lab classes that allow them to perform process work integral to the development of next generation micro and nano-scale products.
WTC’s customers are already anticipating market adoption of nano-scale products and materials and are adapting their processes to address this paradigm shift. The Microfabrication Laboratory is upgrading its equipment and processes to meet the sophisticated needs for nanotech research and development. The next natural step will be a demand for research and process engineers skilled in nanotechnology manufacturing. Anticipating this and addressing it through technical education programs and on-the-job training is a smart initiative.
Many of NSCC’s nanotech courses are taught by expert engineers in the field. As part of NSCC’s course, students are exposed to clean room procedures, process fundamentals and maintenance principles of fabrication and characterization equipment at WTC’s Microfab Lab. The cross-functional nature of nanotechnology and the lab’s ability to support multiple disciplines provide graduates with skills applicable to a diverse range of industries including aerospace, electronics, life sciences, transportation, and pharmaceuticals.
A key goal of the NSCC program is to provide Washington businesses with access to trained workers. Through the nanotech program, employers have the opportunity to tap into this developing workforce early and hire students as interns or entry-level employees. In fact, WTC did just that and hired one of the NSCC students, Sergei Goloborodov, as an entry-level process technician in its Microfabrication Laboratory.
Mark Helsel, of long-time Microfabrication Laboratory client Microvision, has hosted a seminar on nanotechnology for high school students during the summer. The program helps kids see a real-world connection between science and math in school and careers in emerging technology fields. Helsel has hosted similar summer seminars for high school students at WTC’s facility for the past three years.
NSCC’s degree program and Helsel’s summer lab seminar are complementary to the mission of the Washington Nanotechnology Initiative, a statewide program introduced by the Washington Technology Center in 2004 to assure that Washington’s businesses and academic institutions are “nano-ready” and prepared to compete in an ever-evolving and highly competitive global economy. Workforce development is one of the key agendas under the Washington Nanotechnology Initiative. The WTC-NSCC partnership is an important model in showing the value of nanotech education at the K-12 and college levels, and its impact in driving talent into graduate research positions and careers in Washington’s leading technology industries.