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A career in Nanoscience can be big

Nanoscientists deal with reducing materials to nanosizes and observing the changes in their properties. Nanotechnology has the potential to usher in a new industrial revolution.

education Updated: Mar 24, 2010 10:21 IST
Pranab Ghosh

Nanoscience has the potential to become the sunrise sector in the years ahead. “From converting sunlight into power, to targeting a drug to a single malignant cell, from creating sensors in the form of biochip to the ability to produce garments which can act as a chemical shield, possibilities are immense in this (nanotechnology) domain,” says Dr. Jeyaprakash, assistant professor, Karunya University.

Says Prof. CNR Rao, Linus Pauling Research Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bangalore, whose pioneering work has given India the status of an early entrant in the domain, “India, still, has not realised the full import of a general purpose technology like nanoscience. It has the potential to usher in a new industrial revolution.” The National Nano Mission is a step in the right direction, he adds.

In the field of nanoscience, it is material versus molecule. Nanoscientists operate from either of these major vantage points. Some are excited about the behaviour of materials, when brought down to nano levels. In other words, nanoscientists deal with reducing materials to nanosizes and observing the changes in their properties and behaviour. Prof Lubik, a leading scientist, contends that, “material such as gold, which is chemically inert at normal scales, can serve as a potent chemical catalyst at nanoscales. Much of the fascination with nanotechnology stems from these different phenomena that matter exhibits at the nanoscale.”

On the other hand, another group of scientists are interested in using nanoscience to assemble individual atoms into a desired molecule so as to evolve molecular-level machines. But research in this domain is very much in its infancy the world over, and India has negligible presence in the area. But India does operate in the domain of using the conventional technologies used to manufacture nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes and nanoparticles.

As nanoscience is still evolving in India, just over 15 colleges offer programmes in the discipline. So your choices are in fact limited. The best place to study nanoscience is the JNCASR. It has one of the largest concentrations of researchers working on different aspects. Some of the NITs offer MTech programmes, which are also a good bet, especially if you are GATE/CSIR/JRF qualified candidates. Naresh Yadav, an alumnus of NIT, Bhopal says that in terms of facilities, one can never beat the IITs or IISc, but still his institute did have very good faculty.

What’s it about?
One millionth of a millimetre or 10-9 m, is a nanometre, and study of matter at that level is nanotechnology. Initiated as an idea by Nobel Prize winning physicist, Richard Feynman in the early 1950s, nanotechnology caught up as a separate discipline only during the early 90s. The nanotechnology initiative set up in 2000, by the US federal government played a crucial role in providing seed funding for long-term research in the area. It has also caught up well in Europe. India was one of the early entrants in the domain, thanks to the pioneering work of Prof. CNR Rao, Linus Pauling Research Professor at JNCASR. As a field of study nanoscience is truly interdisciplinary in nature. The nature and structure of the course depends upon the area of specialisation that the course focuses on. Normally, the three chief divisions of nanotech are nanomaterials, nanoelectronics and nanobiotechnology. And the concentration of courses would be a function of your specialisation

Skills
.
In-depth knowledge of the subject you specialise in
. Good analytical skills
. Ability to work in teams. Nanotechnology is not one subject. It requires close collaboration with physicists, chemists, biologists, electrical engineers etc in goal oriented teams

How do i get there?
A majority of the institutions in the country offer MTech in nanosceince, and you have to be either a BTech or BE or hold a first class Master’s degree in basic or applied sciences. Different institutions, depending on the research specialisations prefer either science or engineering graduates. So examine the nature of research in the institution and type of faculty they have before short-listing the college. It’s mostly the private universities which offer Master’s level courses in nanoscience. Gen-erally MSc in nanoscience is through research (as offered by Amity). Here the basic eligibility is either a BTech or basic degree in physics, chemistry or allied sciences

The Payoff
Teaching
Entry level: Around Rs 35,000 per month
Middle level: Around Rs 60,000 per month
Senior level: Around Rs 85,000 per month

Industry
Entry level: Around Rs 50,000 per month
Middle level: Around Rs 1,00,000 per month
Senior level: Around Rs 3,00,000 per month

Clock work
9.30 am: Reach office
10 am: Check mails
11 am: Assign work to team members
11.30 am: In lab for research work (the nature of work will depend on the industry one is working in)
1 pm: Quick lunch
2 pm onwards: Continue research work
4.30 pm: Review meeting with other members in the research team
5 pm: Write reports
6.30 pm: Call it a day

Institutes & urls
.
Indian Institute of Science
www.nano.iisc.ernet.in
. JNCASR
www.jncasr.ac.in
. IIT Mumbai & Delhi
www.iitb.ac.in/~crnts/preamble.html & www.iitd.ac.in/
. Amrita University
www.amrita.edu/acns
. Amity University
www.amity.edu
. NIT Bhopal
http://manit.ac.in
. Guru JambeswarUniversity
www.gju.ernet.in
. Cornell University Center for Nanoscale Systems in Information Technology

Pros & Cons
.

You are contributing to and working in the most exciting area of research


.

As there are not much specialists in the field the growth prospects are bright


.

Working in an interdisciplinary field is always challenging


.

One has to learn about the advancements taking place in other areas of science

Critical for health, water and environment issues

A senior teacher talks about the challenges and opportunities

Please trace the evolution of the study of nanotechnology in India?
Most of the research on nanoscience in India started about seven to eight years back. The major impetus to the research came from the Nano-
mission programme of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

What is the scope of work of a nanotechnologist in India as well as abroad?
In India, nanotechnology can be used to address important problems and issues related to health, water, energy and environment. Low-cost sensors can be developed for the early detection, diagnosis of diseases. Drug delivery to carry out site-specific treatment of different ailments can be carried out using nanoparticle-drug composites. Purification of water can be carried out using nanocomposite filter materials. Nanostructured solar cell and fuel cells can be used for efficient and low cost energy conversion.

Are there adequate numbers of skilled nanotechnologists in the country today? If not, why?
With the launch of various Government of India programmes, the number of researchers in nanoscience and nanotechnology is increasing. More efforts are required to increase the number of specialists in this area.

What are the challenges facing the profession of nanotechnology today?
Integration of nanodevices with micro and macro scale devices is one of the major challenges for converting labscale research to ready-to-use devices. Drug delivery for directing low doses of drugs to specific points in the body, low cost nanostructured devices for producing energy are going to be the major developments.

Who are the leading employers in India and globally?
Research laboratories. chemical, pharmaceutical, polymer, rubber and energy companies are the leading employers.

BR Mehta, professor of nanotechnology, department of physics, IIT-Delhi Interviewed by Pranab Ghosh