Sunday, July 13, 2008

Is that nanotechnology in your trousers or are you just happy to see me?

I thought the SL of this post might be a good title for a talk on nanotechnology I gave to a group of youthful students recently but respect for political correctness got the better of me. One could only wonder at the scope of the sexual harassment suits that might follow such an opening gambit. The days of risque banter in the classroom are long gone I fear.

This was the first talk on nanotechnology I had given and I had spent a rather anxious Sunday putting it together. It is the intention to offer a course, that I have designed, in the fall, although the reluctance of some of my colleagues in the division in supporting this venture is slightly surprising to say the least. In a review of the program that is currently underway, one advanced the suggestion that nanotech should be dropped! FU2 dear. I'm not sure of the identity of the individual though I have a pretty good idea.

My fear is that COD is a day late and a dollar short in the nanotech field, as readers of the Tribune might have seen a large article last Sunday on nanotechnology education with a focus on Harper College and its new program unfolding this fall. We have a lot of work to do. The skeptics will wonder how many students will want to sign up for this program and ask how many jobs are out there for these putative nanotechnicians. These are fair questions; I am also interested to know the answers. But if the answers are vague is this a justification for not trying to build for the future? Whatever the reality that nanotechnology eventually becomes, surely it will be something more than nothing, for it is so broad and so varied. This is very different from the superconducting bubble that swelled up so dramatically and faded with quiet disappointment a couple of decades ago. Sadly there are still not trains running on rails of liquid nitrogen, nor will there ever be. As I trudge between the dull red brick of Argonne's aging buildings, I am reminded of the superconductivity conference I attended in the late 80's: the first meeting I ever attended at which fashionably dressed bankers mingled with scientists, eager to buy in to a piece of the action. Looking beyond the obvious hype associated with nanobots and other far-fetched fantasies, the real applications of nanoscale materials across society in both technical (cancer treatment) and mundane (waterproof trousers)applications for me make the choice a no-brainer.


Yashraj Khaitan said...


The optimism that you present in your article for our fast approaching future, which according to me too will be largely determined by the fate of nanotechnology, is really worth appreciating. I am a student, aged 18, and will be joining UCal-Berkeley this fall for my further studies. During my high school days, I carried out some research on nanocrystalline solar cells and got some surprising results. If you're into semiconductors, and could help me out with my project, please do contact me on

shirazgirl said...

Well, you certainly caught my attention.

I received the Career Focus magazine issued by COD and realized the stale trend they are more geared towards is that of a trade school. COD is advertising fantastic programs in Hotel Management (front desk clerk at the Red Roof Inn), Foodservice (lunch lady for Sodexho), and Culinary Arts (clerk at the Jewel bakery). I'm slightly embarrassed to be associated with such a backwards thinking college. And to say that there may not be careers associated with NT is completely narrow minded and idiotic. NT applications can be integrated into the automotive industry, the green movement, computer sciences, medical advancement, pollution control, and of course, the need for improvement on the energy resources of this country. What a phenomenal advantage any young mind would have by being afforded the opportunity to discover the endless possibilities NT applications have to offer. I believe NT to be the backbone to the future influx of fantastic discoveries and live changing achievements. I guess Harper can churn out the next generation of NT's while COD produces the best cosmetologist Shear Genius has ever seen.

COD is erecting this multi million dollar health sciences building presumably to gain recognition as a reputable healthcare teaching facility. If you build it, they will come. Lets offer a 3 year pilot program designed to provide students with an innovative, scientific based education that they, among other things, can use as a platform towards a university education or specialized discipline. Giving our young students knowledge about what the future in science has to offer will excite them. It will provide them with possibilities that would normally seem out of reach or conceived as incomprehensible. Lets give these immature minds some credit or, at the very least, some real educational options that will afford them real opportunity.

Aylwin Forbes said...

You are so right Shiraz: The COD reinforces the myth that community college is just for vocational stuff and almost entirely ignores in its marketing all the transfer academic opportunities that actually benefit far more students than a hair-dressing program; not that I am against hairdressers.

P.S. Shiraz, you can now register for my course, Chemistry 1137. It's now a reality for fall 2008.

shirazgirl said...

Did you happen to record your NT talk? If so, CODcast it. I'd love to hear it.

Is the 1137 the NT class? It's not listed yet.

Aylwin Forbes said...


I did not record the talk. Pity cos I thought it was actually quite good - all modesty aside.

That is the class. I noticed it doesn't show yet in the listing (have to check into that); but you can register, because one of my students did so this morning.

Aylwin Forbes said...


I am honored that a Berkeley student would honor my column with a comment. I know that solar cells are now a hot area for nano research. A former colleague at Penn State is working on them there. Back in the day we were working on amorphous materials for photovoltaics: it always seems to be something that is just around the corner; tantalizingly close but annoyingly out of reach. With energy prices finally reaching stable (hopefully) high prices (does anyone really believe they will plummet any time soon?), we may finally realize the incentive to push these technologies to commercial reality.

shirazgirl said...

FYI: 1137 is listed under "CHEM" instead of "CHEMISTRY" in the curriculum search tab.