Nanotechnology no small matter at Texas A&M
COLLEGE STATION - Nanotechnology is making a transition from the laboratory to the classroom at Texas A&M University this fall. Texas A&M is one of the first schools being funded for the Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education Project (NUE) with a $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant is being administered by the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES). Jeffrey Froyd, director of academic development and head of the Foundation Coalition at Texas A&M, said nanotechnology allows engineers to manipulate materials at a very small scale. Using nanotechnology, engineers have been able to make windows that clean themselves and smart splints that can tell cells to heal broken bones. The project involves incorporating nanotechnology and nanomanufacturing components into freshman and sophomore classes and giving students an idea of the potential growth of these areas in the future. A module focusing on issues related to nanomanufacturing - the synthesis of nanostructures into macro-scale materials - will be integrated into a junior-level class. An entirely new senior-level course with extensive lab components will be introduced in the following semester. One benefit of teaching students about nanotechnology so early in their college careers is that it will make the students more prepared for future engineering trends in industry. "We have learned from earlier technological developments that were delayed in undergraduate implementation that concepts like nanotechnology need to be introduced as soon as possible," Froyd said. "This ensures that graduates will leave prepared to grapple with issues they will face in the workforce." Froyd said that the nanotechnology lessons will give students a new perspective on engineering as a whole. "Engineering is very creative, but a lot of what students see in the first two years is very analytical and broken down," Froyd said. "The case study modules will help them see the larger impacts and get a clear picture of the creative side of engineering." Froyd, whose background is in electrical engineering, will serve as the project's principal investigator. Co-principal investigators, all at Texas A&M, are Winfrid Teizer, assistant professor of physics; Ibrahim Karaman, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; and Terry Creasy, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. "The team is interdisciplinary because the amount and breadth of information being discovered requires that innovations cross boundary lines," Froyd said. "You need people in all areas to cooperate and interdisciplinary teams allow that." Other universities that the National Science Foundation funded to work on NUE projects include Columbia University, Pennsylvania State University and Purdue University.