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Oakton Community College thinks big by going small.

Oakton Community College is known for thinking big. However, lately we've been thinking small--one billionth of a meter to be exact. That's tinier than the wavelength of visible light and a hundred-thousandth the width of a human hair. Such measurements are par for the course in nanotechnology, the science of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular level.

Nanotechnology can be used across numerous fields, from chemistry to engineering, biology to physics.

While most familiar in microchips, nanotechnology is making its way into countless everyday products--from vaccines and computers to automobile tires. And as the uses for nanotechnology rapidly expand, so does the need for skilled nanotechnologists. By 2015, the nanotech industry will need six million workers worldwide in a range of fields, including biotechnology, food science, forensics, medicine and pharmaceuticals, military and national security and sporting goods.

Oakton is at the forefront of filling that need. The college launched its cutting-edge nanotechnology program in January 2013, offering nanotechnology courses in collaboration with the Nanotechnology Education, Employment, and Economic Development Initiative ([NE.sup.3]I), a partnership between Oakton; the Village of Skokie, Ill.; Forest City Enterprises, Inc., which rents space for nanotechnology labs at Skokie's Illinois Science + Technology Park (IS+TP)--and the North Suburban Educational Region for Vocation Education (NSERVE), a career and technical education consortium consisting of nine high schools in Chicago's northern suburbs.

Since 2012, we've received more than $1.5 million in grants to support the nanotechnology program from such donors the National Science Foundation and the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, which has helped to equip our nano lab, develop curriculum, and establish video communication links from the lab to high school and Oakton classrooms.

This academic year (2013-14), the college is offering Fundamentals of Nanotechnology I, which covers the basic application of this field, and Fundamentals of Nanotechnology II, which concentrates on such topics as how physical properties relates to size, quantum mechanics, and various methods that atoms and molecules bond. Most class activities take place at the IS+TP nanotech lab, where students use and interpret data and images from powerful microscopes and scan, print, and analyze devices commonly used by nanotechnology technicians.

Moving forward, Oakton doesn't plan to rest on its laurels. By fall 2014 we hope to offer Fundamentals of Nanotechnology III and a formal certificate in nanotechnology consisting of the three nanotech courses, a natural science class, and an internship.

Community colleges have a unique mandate to serve both their students and the community at-large. Oakton's growing nanotechnology program exemplifies this mission, as it seeks to provide career training and opportunities for a wide range of individuals, and fill a key need in a rapidly expanding local industry. Who would have thought something so small would turn into something so big?

Robert Sompolski, Ph.D., is dean of mathematics and technologies at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Illinois.
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Author:Sompolski, Robert
Publication:Community College Week
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Oct 28, 2013
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