Small tech, big impact
By Ben Skuse
Combining technology and science allows us to think big and solve challenges in computing, medicine and the environment.
The thickness of a strand of hair is about 100,000 nanometres, while a virus is about 50 nanometres thick. This is the tiny scale that experts are working at to understand and control how materials behave.
A degree in nanoscience gives you the chance to make super-materials for health, tech and the environment – giving you the tools to take on the future’s grand challenges.
“Nanotechnology allows us to pack supercomputing power into a piece of silicon no bigger than a thumbnail,” says associate researcher Dr Philipp Gutruf at RMIT University.
Smartphones, tablets and laptops would never have been possible without nanotechnology. But making things on a small scale is not all that nanoscience has to offer. Playing with the nanostructure of materials can make them elastic, electric, magnetic, super-hard or almost anything else you want them to be!
“I use materials to make stretchable and flexible sensors, electronics and optics,” says Philipp. He’s created a tiny device that warns when a person has dangerously low levels of blood oxygen, which can be used to monitor hospital patients and alert mountain climbers; and ultra-thin, stretchable lenses that filter light better than standard lenses – the first step towards futuristic ‘smart’ contact lenses.
Nanoscience at the heart of health innovation
Dr Tristan Clemons from the University of Western Australia is using nanotech to improve the way we treat diseases like cancer and cystic fibrosis.
“Nanotech can help us create better drugs and targeted drug delivery,” he says. “The research is exciting because you can work on improving the quality of life of people who are suffering.”
Using powerful supercomputers, CSIRO science leader Dr Amanda Barnard discovered a property of diamond nanoparticles that can target brain tumours in cancer patients.
Amanda’s efforts could transform society in many different ways, for example in the energy sector. “I’d love to see a world where energy is available to all, and I think nanoscience will ultimately allow this,” she says.
More efficient solar panels, fuel cells and batteries, and lighter vehicles are just the beginning when you manipulate materials on the nanoscale.
Whether designing medical diagnostic devices or building better batteries – the only thing for certain is that a career in nanoscience is hugely exciting.
“Nanotech is focused on creating a new world around us,” Amanda says. “If you’re interested in launching into the unknown, this is the field for you.”
GET INTO SCI + TECHNOLOGY!
Check out some work and study options…
Biomedical engineer *$62,197
Medical laboratory scientist *$60,379
Radiographer *$64,376 graduate
Graduate DIPLOMA of…
Nanotechnology, Flinders University
Professional Practice (Materials and Nanotechnology), University of South Australia
Science (Molecular Biology and Biotechnology), University of Western Australia
Science (Nanoscience and Technology), University of Sydney
Engineering (Hons) (Biomedical Systems), Australian National University
Biotechnology (Hons) (Nanotechnology), University of Queensland
Author: Ben Skuse
Ben Skuse is a UK-based former mathematician turned professional science writer, who has written for the Careers with STEM magazines for over 5 years. You can follow him on Twitter @BenSkuseSciComm.