Academic spotlight: Forsyth Tech continues nanotech lead with new lab

(October 4, 2010) — Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, NC, is doing its part in keeping the Tar Heel State as one of the strongest nanotech clusters in the nation. Forsyth Tech provides a two-year nanotechnology degree program in the Southeast US. This program has strong partnerships with innovative employers, academic researchers, and industrial organizations across North Carolina, including both the Piedmont Triad (Winston-Salem, High Point, and Greensboro) and the Research Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill).

North Carolina is ranked 8th in nanotechnology while the Triangle metro area is ranked fourth by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.

Nanotech second-year student Greg Walker changes the tip of a NanoSurf EasyScan 2 atomic force microscope.

Strong initial support

The two-year Associate Degree in Applied Science in Nanotechnology was first offered at Forsyth Tech in 2005 with the financial support of a $500,000 grant from the Wachovia Foundation. These financial resources give students access to a wide array of tools on campus at Forsyth Tech, including atomic-force microscopy (AFM) in both air and liquid, fluorescence microscopy, spin-coaters, polymer-synthesizing microwave ovens, heaters for nanotube fabrication, and high-rpm centrifugal mixers for the mixing of nanoparticles into macroscopic matrices.

From its inception, significant technical assistance from Dr. David Carroll, director of the Wake Forest University Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials, has provided access to highly qualified adjunct faculty and equipment, including MOCVD equipment, electron microscopes, and a class 10,000 clean room.

The Nanotech Toolbox

This degree is built around eight core courses: a pair each in theory, safety, characterization, and fabrication.

The two theory courses introduce students to the qualitative and quantitative aspects of nanotechnology, respectively. NAN 112 Fundamentals of Nanoscience includes four weeks each of biology, chemistry, physics, and nanostructures. The two safety courses encompass elements of laboratory and occupational safety, waste management and removal, as well as IP and litigation. NAN 132 Controlled Materials addresses corporate and regulatory issues, and provides a good forum for telephone interviews with representatives from FDA, EPA, and compliance consultant firms such as NanoTox of Houston.

The two fabrication courses introduce students to chemical, physical, and thermal methods of creating nanoparticles and nanocomposites. NAN 241 Fabrication of Soft Matter focuses on the fabrication of nanoparticles and polymers, and the mixing of the two to form nanocomposites. Forsyth Tech students take NAN 242 Thin Films at the Wake Forest University Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials.

The two characterization courses present the real strength of the program. NAN 243 covers all aspects of atomic-force microscopy, including AFM in liquid. Forsyth Tech students take NAN 244 Electron Microscopy with Wake Forest students but pay in-state community college tuition. In 2008, with the aid of a $136,000 grant from the North Carolina BioNetwork, an elective course, NAN 251 Biological Atomic-Force Microscopy, was added.

Nanotech program graduate Rei Kawamura processes fluorescence images of biological samples captured with an Olympus IX-71.

Human resources

Steven Crawford, a Nanotech diploma student with a B.A. in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was attracted to Forsyth Tech’s program because Nanotechnology is “at the forefront of everything I was interested in, both academics and my passion for technology.” Eric Norman, a first-year nanotech student adds “I’ve thought since high school chemistry, we know things are made of molecules, why can’t we move them around and build with them?” Wes Mays, a graduate of the program now working with PlexiLight, has benefitted from having “an internship to be able to work with an employer before I got a job. I now have an R&D position testing, optimizing, and making demonstration units.” Matt Craps of NanoTech Labs, producer of carbon nanotubes (CNT) and nanocomposite materials, sees it from the management side. He notes "Forsyth Tech graduates’ basis of knowledge, in the ever evolving field of nanotechnology, is valuable for our nanomaterials production. They demonstrate a keen interest to learn additional skills and become further involved in our manufacturing process."

Evolving curriculum

The curriculum received a significant overhaul in 2010 to provide students with easier access to the program. For those who enter with a two-year technical or four-year scientific degree, a new Diploma in Nanotechnology is offered. It consists of the eight core courses alone, and can be completed in just two semesters — or nine months. For incumbent workers, a new Certificate in Nanotechnology is now available. It includes one course each in theory, safety, characterization, and fabrication. The two-year Associate Degree for first-time college students remains the most popular option, but now students are able to supplement the eight core courses with electives, including more options in mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics, engineering, even biotechnology courses. This added flexibility allows students to prepare for careers in nanomaterials, quality control, metrology, nanobiology, regenerative medicine, and drug delivery. To support these classes in nanotechnology, students take one semester each of biology, chemistry, and physics. Integral to the program are also knowledge and skills from engineering, economics, and ethics.

Future nanotech advances for Forsyth Tech

A new facility for the program, a 3,000 sq.ft. laboratory – including a class-1000 clean room – on the ground floor of Forsyth Tech’s Center for Emerging Technologies in the Piedmont Triad Research Park situated in downtown Winston-Salem, is projected to open in 2014. The new campus will bring together Forsyth Tech’s Nanotech, Biotech, Design, and Corporate training programs for collaboration with other tenants in the park, including Nanoholdings’ PureLux and FiberCell, Triad Forensics Laboratory, Keranetics, Salzburg Therapeutics for Cancer, the North Carolina BioNetwork Pharmaceutical Center, and the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

The Nanotechnology program, in close cooperation with Forsyth Tech’s Biotechnology program and partners across the state — NC A&T University, the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, Tengion, Cook Medical, Nanomedica, Pioneer Surgical, Xanofi, and the Center of Innovation in Nanobiotechnology — is expanding into nanomedicine: regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, drug delivery, and cancer therapies. North Carolina is ranked third in biotechnology by the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice.

The Forsyth Tech program focuses on producing a workforce trained in the mutltidisciplinary skills that nanotech and nanomedicine employers across North Carolina are demanding. Through internships and new jobs, Forsyth Tech Nanotechnology graduates have brought their nanotech skill set to R&D firms, nanomanufacturing companies, and physics and engineering laboratories. These same graduates will do their part to keep NC in the forefront of the nation’s emerging nanotechnology sector.

Dr. Kevin J. Conley, the Program Coordinator of Nanotechnology Education at Forsyth Tech can be reached by email at kconley@forsythtech.edu or phone at 336-734-7389.

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