As I pack up to leave Salt Lake City and the 237th American Chemical Society meeting, I wanted to reflect on some of the comments about the future of nanotechnology and nanoeducation.
From the education sessions, it seems clear that K-12 teachers are taking bits and pieces of activities that have been developed through NNI funding. It has to "fit" into their curriculum and that means that it is only adapted if the teachers find it easy to use and it supports and augments the content they are required to teach. For example, 3 week modules on a topic on nanotechnology are unlikely to be used as designed and assessed. The school systems are not flexible enough to allow teachers to implement new curriculum and the testing schedules make it almost impossible for teachers to devote large chunks of time to new content.
The general consensus that I witnessed about undergraduate majors in nanotechnology was that they are too general and students would be better served by majoring on a core science or engineering and then doing nanoscience research in postgraduate studies. There was concern that the true interdisplinary strength of nanoscience research will be watered down if we don't have students with strong foundations in basic sciences. They need to approach nano-projects from different viewpoints. Nanotechnology minors might have more support. Especially if it encourages students to explore a series of courses where they get hands on exposure to some of the tools that are used in nanoscience research but may not be available to undergraduates.
Whitesides commented that nanotechnology as a field is maturing. We have passed beyond the hype and unreasonable expectations of the late 90's and have passed through the following disappointment stage of this decade and are now ready for steady growth - as long as we understand structure-property functions and create materials that have real applications.