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World’s first undergraduate nanotech program launched
Nanoengineering has potential to encompass every avenue of science

by Janet Wong

Feb. 12, 2001 -- U of T is breaking ground in what is arguably one of the hottest area of science and engineering right now — nanotechnology.

Starting in the 2001-2002 school year, the engineering science program will begin offering an undergraduate nanoengineering option, the first time such a program will be offered anywhere in the world. “It’s not often that we can preempt the Americans on something, and clearly we’re ahead of them on this,” said Professor Doug Perovic, chair of metallurgy and materials science and the new nanoengineering option at the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. Nanoengineering encompasses two previously separate fields — nanotechnology and nanostructured materials. The term “nano” itself originated from the Greek word for dwarf, “nanos,” but today refers to a branch of science dealing with measures so small, so minute, that they cannot be seen through an ordinary microscope.

This small world is getting some very big attention; around the world, governments and research institutions are pouring incredible sums of money into nanotechnology and nanoengineering. The reason: nanotech research has the possibility of threading into every avenue of science, from telecommunications to biomedical technology and devices.

“This undergraduate program, unlike any other program we have a U of T, really blends together the sciences of physics, chemistry and biology,” Perovic said. “You need all three of those. And at the size scales I’m talking about, there is no difference between physics, chemistry and biology anymore because we’re talking about molecules and atoms.”

Until recently, he explained, the world was categorized by science as primarily microscopic or macroscopic in size, meaning that most things could be seen under an optical microscope. The top-down approach, which has been used for decades, involved chipping away at something to make it smaller and smaller.

“That’s what micro-circuitry and micro-technology for telecommunications is so interested in, but there’s a limit to how far we can keep chiselling or shrinking down a piece of semi-conductor or what have you. So we’re now looking at the other end, going from the bottom up,” Perovic said. “You can start from an embryo and next thing you know you have a human standing there with this intricate mixture of hard material, soft materials and a computer for a brain that beats anything we ever can dream of making,” he continued. “So this whole process of self-assembly is one of the key driving forces now for nanotechnology — how do we coax atoms and molecules to assemble themselves.”

Engineering science attracts some of the top science and engineering students across the country. In the last two years of the four-year program, students will be able to choose either aerospace, biomedical, computer, electrical or environmental engineering, manufacturing systems, physics or the two new options nanoengineering or infrastructure engineering.

Janet Wong is a news services officer with the Department of Public Affairs.


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