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This item originally appeared in the March 24, 2005 issue of The Tech Talk.


News Editor

Tech will be the only school you can go to and play with nanotechnology for a degree.

The Louisiana Board of Regents approved a proposal Feb. 24 allowing Tech to become the first university in the country to have a nanosystems engineering undergraduate degree program.

Dr. Kenneth Rea, vice president for academic affairs, said Tech is continuing its academic tradition.

"This is a statement by the university on the importance of undergraduate education, and this degree is a reflection of that commitment," Rea said.

Tech President Dr. Dan Reneau said it is exciting to be at the forefront of a booming industry.

"Nanotechnology is one of the hottest things going on right now," Reneau said. "We are very proud because we have the facilities and faculty to provide a first-rate degree. We got into the business early and we have facilities that I think are second to none and faculty that are second to none. This is the way of the future and vast sums of money are being put into this."

Reneau said Tech has already received some of this money and stands to gain much more in the future.

Rea said there is an increased chance for grants as well.

"This will enhance Tech's effort to get outside funding and attract top-quality students across the field, because it has the potential to be the next industrial revolution," Rea said.

Dr. Hisham Hegab, program chair of micro and nano engineering and an associate professor of mechanical engineering, also said Tech stands to benefit financially.

Graduates of the program will receive a Bachelor of Science degree, and current engineering students will be able to transfer into the program at either the sophomore or junior level fall quarter. The program could have its first graduates as early as May 2007.

Hegab said the number of transfer students will be limited to 20 per class until they see how many students the university can handle.

Hegab said the program is important because of the field's limitless abilities.

"This emerging field of nanotechnology holds a lot of potential. Right now it's being compared to the information revolution and could be the next major change in terms of technology and how it's going to affect society."

Hegab said some examples of what nanotechnology research has developed are better sunscreens, longer-lasting tennis balls and stain-free clothing. He also said it could lead to advancements in censors to detect chemical agents that could be useful in homeland defense.

Hegab said Tech has been involved in research for several years and this is just part of a progression.

"We've already had research going on at the Institute for Micromanufacturing for a while," Hegab said. "And we have graduate programs that have been in existence also, so it was just a natural step to bring this down to the undergraduate level considering the history of the university as a teaching institution."

Hegab also said Tech's engineering program is distinctive in its ability to accommodate the new program.

"In a lot of ways I think we were uniquely prepared because the college itself is set up administratively a little bit different than a lot of universities," Hegab said. "In this area of research, there had already been emphasis in place where we have a research center and already had the faculty in place that have the expertise and background.

"It allowed us to quickly pull together people from various disciplines to try to organize the curriculum and a plan for making the program. What's kind of unique to this program is it crosses a lot of different disciplines in terms of the possibilities of what someone might work with, so we needed a lot of input from all the various branches of engineering as well as chemistry and physics, and we were able to draw together a group to help plan that curriculum."

Rea also said great communication helped make the program possible.

"Our strength is interdisciplinary and not all universities have that ability," Rea said. "The faculty is used to working together and that is very beneficial. We have top-quality faculty and we have the facilities and equipment [in place]. We also have very excellent students and you need all these things to put a program together."

Josh Anderson, a senior electrical engineering major, said the program allows Tech to achieve its potential.

"Nanotechnology is becoming increasingly applicable in many different areas of technology, and it's great for Tech to be on the frontier," Anderson said.

"A lot of our research funding and time is devoted toward micromanufacturing and having professors that specialize in those areas that can teach undergraduate students is a good use of personnel and assets."

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