March 06, 2006

Educators' Task: Prepare A Nanotech Work Force

By: by Richard A. D'Errico, Staff writer, The Business Review


"This nanotech thing is really a mystery to me."

That's what Ken McDermith, department administrator for technology and business at Shenendehowa Central School District, said, giving voice to the thoughts of many in the region who hear about developments at the state university's Albany NanoTech complex and the rise of nanotech companies in the area.

McDermith's comment was directed to a panel speaking about preparing students for the future work force. The discussion was part of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce's Feb. 28 conference for the region's teachers held at the state University at Albany's $3 billion, 450,000-square-foot College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

Nanotechnology has been heralded as one of the region's key building blocks for a high-tech economy. Companies including Applied NanoWorks in Watervliet are landing venture capital--an accomplishment for a startup in a new technology--and drawing experienced leadership to the region. Last month, Applied NanoWorks said it received $2 million in venture funding. Crystal IS in North Greenbush named its first outside CEO, Ding Day, who has an extensive background in the semiconductor industry in the United States and overseas.

This week, the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research said the SUNY's Center for Advanced Technology in Nanomaterials and Nanoelectronics, based at Albany NanoTech, has generated $1.1 billion in economic impact, creating or retaining 1,500 jobs.

Responding to nanotech news

McDermith wants to know how he is to respond to all the news. His responsibilities include helping set the direction for curriculum that will prepare students for the future jobs.

"I have to forecast what the future is for my district [and] to prepare what we should be teaching our kids," he said. "I don't really have a a good feel for what this nanotechnology field is. It's kind of vague. It's like a moving target. I don't know where I should be aligning programs right now."

Alain Kaloyeros, one of the people leading the region's push in nanotechnology, offered the audience a layman's defintion of just nanotechnology and how it will effect everyone. Kaloyeros is vice president and chief administrative officer of the nanocollege, president of Albany NanoTech and a nanoscience professor.

Addressing McDermith's point head on, Kaloyeros spoke about the promise of nanotech while demystifying the science.

"Nanotechnology is not a product," he said. "It is not something you buy. It's actually know-how. It's controlling and manipulating individual atoms."

He showed a slide of a cross section of a human hair and explained that it measured about 100,000 nanometers.

"It's not a fad. It's not a buzz word," Kaloyeros said. Nanotechnology is a continuation of human exploration, he said. In the past, outside forces drove the quest for the atomic bomb in the 1940s, Sputnik in the 1950s, and getting a man on the moon in the 1960s.

Today, the main driver behind nanotechnology isn't limited to one event. People want faster computers that can do more. That means getting chips smaller. Nanotechnology advances everything from homeland security applications to health care, including early detection of diseases.

Nanotechnology is used in paint for Mercedes to make the vehicles scratch resistant. It's in Eddie Bauer clothing to make fabric stain resistant and wrinkle free. By 2014, there will be a $2.6 trillion market for products with nanotechnology.

Not enough being done

Kaloyeros said by 2014, 2 million nanotech-savvy workers will be needed in the United States, according to National Science Foundation estimates. That means 20 percent of the children between 10 and 17 need to be educated now, Kaloyeros told his audience of teachers.

"And we're not doing it," he said. "Is enough being done? Not by a long shot."

Kaloyeros, addressing concerns raised by educators that state standards can be obstacles to preparing the future tech work force, said making the necessary changes won't be easy.

"It's time to look at universities, high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools to work together to start preparing the work force," he said.

After Kaloyeros' talk, McDermith said he had a better understanding of nanotech.

"It definitely helps," he said. "I'm still mystified as to what I can do in the classroom."