US senators introduce bill to train nanotech workers

March 17, 2010 - Two US senators from opposite coasts are introducing legislation to help schools from universities to high schools better educate students and train workers in nanotechnology fields.

The "Promote Nanotechnology in Schools Act" (Bill S.3117) directs the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish a grant program providing educational institutions — schools, community colleges, 2- and 4-year colleges, universities, etc. — with up to $400,000 to purchase nanotechnology equipment and materials, with participating institutions required to match 25% of their grant amount. Such equipment must also be manufactured in the US or with at least 50% of its composition sourced from the US. Reports from the participating institutions are due back in one year to report how the funds were used.

Driving this initiative is a perceived wide opportunity in a growing range of nanotech-enabled fields — requiring at least 2 million trained workers within the next five years, note Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), in a statement. Wyden serves as co-chair of the Senate Nanotechnology Caucus. The language of the bill illustrates the need to develop this workforce domestically to keep the US at the forefront of nanoscience — citing NSF data indicating 33% of all science and engineering doctorates awarded in the US in 2007 went to foreign students on temporary visas (the last year for which data are available), and foreign students earned 63% of the engineering doctorates.

"The sky really is the limit in terms of where the next great advancement may lead," Wyden said in a statement. "This legislation will help schools obtain nanotech equipment and give students the opportunity to fill the high tech jobs that will be created by this cutting-edge industry."

"Our nation is poised to emerge as a global leader within the nanotechnology industry, but only if we have the skilled workforce to do so," added Sen. Snowe. "This legislation will provide schools with the vital resources they need to strengthen education programs within the field and better prepare future generations for the well-paying jobs in this competitive, 21st century industry."

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