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Nanomaterials Scientists

The Job

Nanomaterials are microscopic pieces of matter that both exist in nature and can be created by scientists and engineers (synthetic nanomaterials are known as engineered nanomaterials). They are characterized by their tiny size, which is measured in nanometers. A nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter—or approximately 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. To provide another perspective, an average human hand is 100 million nanometers long. According to the National Nanotechnology Initiative, nanomaterials are special because they “have different properties at the nanoscale—some are better at conducting electricity or heat, some are stronger, some have different properties, and some reflect light better or change colors as their size is changed.”

Scientists study nanomaterials to help companies and government agencies develop products and medical treatments that improve human life. For example, nanomaterials scientists in the pharmaceutical industry study and develop nanomaterials to be incorporated into drugs that can be delivered specifically to diseased cells in order to provide maximum effectiveness while minimizing adverse effects on the patient.

Others work on developing antibacterial dressings for wounds, using nanoscale silver and other types of nanoparticles. In the environmental industry, scientists develop nanomaterials that allow for cleaner, more affordable energy; low-cost filters to provide clean drinking water; and sensors to detect and identify harmful chemicals. Nanomaterials scientists in the consumer goods industry have helped create water-repellent, self-cleaning, scratch-resistant, anti-reflective, and ultraviolet- or infrared-resistant nanofilms that are used on eyeglasses, cameras, computer monitors, and other products. These are just a few examples of the many practical uses of nanomaterials and the work of nanomaterials scientists.

Nanomaterials scientists work in a variety of industries, and their job duties vary greatly. But regardless of employer, nanomaterials scientists perform the following tasks:

  • conduct experiments involving the synthesis, characterization, and application of nanomaterials
  • propose and test theories regarding the properties, behaviors, and uses of nanomaterials
  • conduct studies and product evaluations to support new products, processes, or systems for specific nanotechnology applications, such as nanofabrication or electroplating
  • perform research related to a wide range of nanoscience topics such as heat transfer, fluorescence detection, packaging, hybrid systems, nanoparticle dispersion, nanocomposites, and optoelectronics
  • conduct studies to determine the feasibility, costs, and performance benefits of new and existing nanomaterials
  • present data and results to managers and executive teams orally and in writing
  • supervise technologists and technicians in testing and analyzing components and the physical properties of materials, and interact with nanosystems engineers who are engaged in nanotechnology research or production
  • design, develop, and implement technical systems, software, and processes to improve analytical quality and laboratory performance