NSF funds CNEU to develop nanotechnology workforce

The Penn State Center for Nanotechnology Education and Utilization has received funding from the National Science Foundation to develop a Nanotechnology Professional Development Partnership to address the growing national need for a skilled nanotechnology workforce. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With two grants awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Penn State Center for Nanotechnology Education and Utilization (CNEU) will develop a Nanotechnology Professional Development Partnership (NPDP) to continue providing leading-edge nanotechnology education to post-secondary educators and students to address the growing national need for a skilled nanotechnology workforce.

Totaling more than $2.5 million, the awards, administered through the NSF’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, will provide funding through August 2020. This financial support will allow CNEU to offer new and more affordable and accessible training to a much larger and diverse nanotechnology audience through its Nanotechnology Applications and Career Knowledge (NACK) Network, which recently became an ATE support center.

“The support center is establishing a larger national infrastructure for more advanced nanotechnology workforce education,” said Osama Awadelkarim, CNEU director and professor of engineering science and mechanics. “Several support center initiatives include the creation of national skill standards and certificates via ASTM International, continuing the growth of the RAIN (Remotely Accessible Instruments for Nanotechnology) national network and ongoing distribution of classroom resources for emerging nanotechnology programs.”

Since 2008 NACK has functioned as an ATE national center, establishing itself as a national leader in nanotechnology workforce development, primarily for students and educators at four-year universities and two-year community colleges and technical colleges. NACK offered hands-on professional development workshops on the University Park campus several times per year. These intensive, three-to-four-day workshops included classroom instruction, as well as laboratory training.

Although highly successful, the workshops, due to their length and singular location, could be difficult for individuals from across the country to attend. Also, the majority of NSF funding was used to conduct these workshops and provide travel support for participants, thereby limiting financial resources required to offer new and improved methods of educating a larger future nanotechnology workforce.

With NACK functioning as a support center, CNEU will redirect its funding towards developing free, live-streaming, fully-interactive workshops for any educator at any level — at any location — thus increasing its reach and effectiveness to a much broader audience.

“For many years, CNEU has worked with multiple entities across the country that are dedicated to preparing the nanotechnology workforce,” said Bob Ehrmann, CNEU managing director. “This exciting new project will enable a subset of these educators to assist us in providing real-time, diverse, effective and affordable professional development to a much larger audience. We are eager to take on the challenge of creating and evaluating a cutting-edge multimodal professional development model.” 

The live-streaming workshops will include new content and adapted versions of the lectures, demonstrations and courses offered from the in-person workshops “Introduction to Nanotechnology” and “Nanotechnology Course Resource I/II.” The new workshops will also include virtual labs and cleanroom experiences with remote access to nanoscale measurement equipment at different NACK partner sites that will allow attendees to access state-of-the-art characterization tools and lab software to conduct simulated experiments and data analysis exercises.

Remote access to the equipment will also provide opportunities for individuals at rural colleges or K-12 schools, who aren’t necessarily able to attend the in-person workshops, to gain valuable nanotechnology knowledge and experience.

CNEU will utilize its university and college partners located across the country to help conduct the workshops and provide hands-on experiences within their respective labs for those individuals who are able to travel to a physical location.

As part of the NPDP and via strategic partnerships, CNEU will increase its outreach to underrepresented student groups to increase participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, in general; and participation in nanotechnology, in particular. Special efforts will be made to bring the professional development workshops to the attention of educators and administrators at historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions.

Along with its new program offerings, CNEU will continue to provide hands-on, in-person workshops for educators who are able to secure funding from their respective institutions or companies. CNEU will also continue to provide online nanotechnology courses, webinars and mini-workshops as part of its program offerings to secondary and post-secondary students, educators and industry personnel.

CNEU is dedicated to research, development and education across all aspects of micro- and nanotechnology, and its resources are focused on the incorporation of nanotechnology into secondary education, post-secondary education and industry applications. The Center is the home of the Pennsylvania Nanofabrication Manufacturing Technology (NMT) Partnership — a higher education collaborative dedicated to creating and updating a workforce in Pennsylvania, trained in the rapidly advancing and exciting field of nanotechnology. NMT academic programs are offered by partner institutions and include associate degree, baccalaureate degree and certificate pathways to an education in nanotechnology.

CNEU partners in the NPDP project include Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, South Bend, Indiana; Forsyth Technical Community College, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Erie Community College, Buffalo, New York; North Seattle College, Seattle, Washington; Atlanta Technical College, Atlanta, Georgia; and Northwest Vista College, San Antonio, Texas. Additional collaborators include Coppin State University, ATE Central and nanoHUB.

With an emphasis on two-year colleges, the ATE program focuses on the education of technicians for the high-technology fields that drive the nation's economy. The program involves partnerships between academic institutions and industry to promote improvement in the education of science and engineering technicians at the undergraduate and secondary school levels. The ATE program supports curriculum development, professional development of college faculty and secondary school teachers, career pathways and other activities.

Last Updated August 24, 2017