Nanoscience Certificate Approved

February 24, 2004

The Executive Committee of the Graduate Faculty has approved a graduate certificate program in nanoscience, providing a boost to the University's efforts to become a recognized player in the emerging field.

Computer science professor John Reif, who spearheaded the creation of the certificate, said the goals of the program are to cement Duke's reputation as a university with a strong commitment to nanoscience, attract quality graduate students and facilitate faculty research in the field.

"We're hoping that this will draw in some nice new students, some very bright, able students who will take these interdisciplinary courses," Reif said. "And the research projects that the faculty do at Duke in nanoscience will be improved because the availability of these [students]."

Nanoscience is a rapidly growing interdisciplinary field that deals with precisely controlling individual atoms to achieve a variety of ends, including the creation of stronger, lighter, more flexible and cheaper materials. Few institutions have programs dedicated specifically to nanoscience; in fact, the field is so new that "nanoscience" is not listed in many dictionaries.

It's importance to the future of science and manufacturing, however, is commonly acknowledged at Duke. Nanoscience is cited in the University's strategic plan, "Building on Excellence," and Vice Provost for Research James Siedow said it is one of the most highly prioritized emerging sciences at the University.

"Nanoscience is taking off," Siedow said. "It's a very hot area."

Efforts to increase the presence of nanoscience at the University proceeded slowly at first. Its arrival, however, will be accelerated by the certificate program, recent hires like physics professor and nanoscience researcher Albert Chang and the space committed to nanoscience in the upcoming Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences.

Also, the establishment of a certificate is only the first step in creating what will likely be a full graduate program. Siedow estimated that after about three years, discussions will begin to give nanoscience full status as a program.

Nanoscience draws from established scientific fields like engineering, chemistry, computer science and physics. Its interdisciplinary nature is similar to that of other highly prioritized new disciplines like genomics and global change.

"Everyone's going to be affected by the trend toward interdisciplinary research, and that means you've got to be thinking about trying to bridge a number of disciplines, because the jobs out there will involve interdisciplinary skills," Reif said.