needs an approach that fosters high-quality scientists
and engineers while taking into account interdisciplinarity
and innovation along with wider societal issues.
This was the clear message from the first EC workshop
dedicated to education and research training needs
for nanosciences and nanotechnologies.
delegates emphasised that the educational issues are
not necessarily unique to nanotechnology. Good practice
can be found in other areas of research training and
the new approaches established for ‘nano-training'
should be applicable across other innovative research
Progress in nanotechnology has been rapid, but there
is a major human resources issue looming. Education
and training is essential to bring forward a new generation
of researchers and other skilled workers with the flexible and interdisciplinary
R&D approach that nanotechnology needs. Success in this new technology will
underpin progress in a vast swathe of science and enterprise, so good interpersonal
skills and an understanding of commerce are also required.
The first day of the workshop saw a number of plenary lectures setting the scene
and giving viewpoints from industry, academia and the European Commission. New
training ideas and initiatives at national and European level were described
including contributions from the US and Japan.
Keeping up the pace
The second day was devoted to four parallel sessions. Access to analytical facilities
is an issue according to Stefan Csillag of Stockholm University, who reported
back on the session on the pace of training for research. The availability of
infrastructure across the EU is not homogeneous and giving students hands-on
experience in expensive characterisation techniques is important. A broad cross-disciplinary
education with a sharp focus on appropriate key skills was a model that seemed
to be emerging as a practical approach with the emphasis on obtaining high quality
researchers. Professor Csillag also highlighted the need to help the mobility
of students from western to eastern Europe, which requires funding to motivate
students and to establish attractive Centres of Excellence.
Bridging the disciplines
Francis Tay of the National University of Singapore
summarised the session on new approaches. He agreed that nanotechnology is
not a new discipline but a new approach involving an integration of skills.
He gave the example of materials science and medicine that have successfully
worked through similar issues of integrating scientific disciplines.
It was felt that the current single-discipline course approach is still
appropriate at undergraduate level, and that industry placements during
degree courses are helpful and inspiring. At post-graduate level there
is a need to seek excellence and cross-disciplinary MSc courses are
particularly valuable for this – the Leuven
University Erasmus Mundus course was highlighted as a good model. At PhD level,
the need for an interdisciplinary approach depends entirely on the project's
research aims, but flexibility and open-mindedness is important. “Problem solving
is the common issue,” said Prof. Tay, “leading naturally to interdisciplinary
cooperation”. Joint departmental supervision of PhD students should
be encouraged where appropriate and institutional obstacles to interdisciplinary
research should be removed. The use of infrastructure funding to bring
research communities under one roof could also prove beneficial. The
promotion of summer schools, bringing eminent researchers and less
experienced colleagues from different disciplines together, to discuss
the state-of-the-art in a non-threatening environment, could be a good
mechanism to advance collaboration and networking.
Intersectorial – bringing academia and industry together
Terry Wilkins of the NanoManufacturing Institute at Leeds University addressed
the needs of industry and career development. He again highlighted the importance
of MSc courses and especially of maintaining the balance between creation (nanoscience)
and innovation (nanotechnology). The modular aspect of many MSc courses could
allow their adaptation to continuing professional development in industry. A
mechanism should also be found to ensure a two-way flow of people between industry
and academia: this is an issue for biotechnology and information and communication
technologies as well.
In many ways a nanoscience MSc should resemble ‘a technical MBA'. What industry
needs are ‘polymaths fluent in multiple disciplines', entrepreneurial people
as well as ‘deep specialists' – all bringing different skill sets to a team approach. Training
in non-technical skills such as economics is important. In particular,
fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in technical people is required and
the coaching scheme established by the Swiss CTI institution was highlighted
as a good model.
Regulatory requirements when starting an SME need to be simplified and harmonised,
with easier access to capital. The greater engagement of the European Investment
Bank in research funding was welcomed. The patents system in Europe needs improvement,
with better validation and simpler processes. A system that truly rewarded the
researcher for the value of the IP generated would be a great incentive.
Widening the horizons
people need to be excited by nanotechnology and
one way of supporting teachers could be the provision of ‘off-the-shelf' kits, developed
by higher education institutions for use in school lessons. This was one idea
from the session addressing ‘raising awareness in the young and public
concerns' reported by Bharat Bhushan of Ohio State University.
Within research-level courses, safety, health and environmental issues
need to be incorporated. There was some debate about best practice
to incorporate ethical aspects within courses. The ethical aspect is
important and related to the need to successfully engage the public
in an open manner. There is a need to raise awareness about the potential
risks of the technology, but also bearing in mind the tangible benefits
that it can deliver. The ‘GMO
experience has many lessons to offer and there is a need to engage
with non-scientific experts to solve all these issues.'