The manipulation of matter at the atomic scale, known as nanotechnology, is radically changing industry and society - and creating exciting new job opportunities.
It's been almost half a century since Richard Feynman first imagined nanotechnology, but it’s only recent developments that have allowed scientists to fully explore this theory – leading to a world of potential benefits and commercial applications.
"At RMIT, we understand that nanotechnology is critical in the 21st Century – when we understand the nanoscale we can create technologies that exploit these new effects", says Professor Andrew Greentree, program manager for the Master of Nanotechnology and Smart Materials at RMIT University.
Recent breakthroughs in nanotechnology have led to the creation of smart materials that have the ability to improve medicine, materials, environment and technology.
It was this untapped potential that sparked Jin Wee How’s interest in nanotechnology and spurred him to pursue a Master of Nanotechnology and Smart Materials at RMIT.
"I was interested in exploring the potential of nanotechnology and wanted to be involved in the latest developments in the field," How says.
"RMIT is one of the only universities in Melbourne to offer a course like this.
"Here I’ve had the opportunity to work with cutting-edge equipment, allowing me to not only learn the theory behind techniques but also how to use the technology and interpret data."
RMIT has invested over $50M in state-of-the-art nanotechnology facilities, including the Micro Nano Research Facility; the RMIT Microscopy and Microanalysis Facility; and the laboratories of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics.
According to Greentree, the demand for qualified nanotechnologists is only going to grow.
"Currently there are graduate shortages in the nano-enabling specialisations of chemistry; materials science and engineering; microelectronics fabrication; and meteorology in the fields of telecommunications, computing, defence, solar energy, medicine, aerospace, paints and coatings, cosmetics, and environmental remediation," he says.
"To make your mark, you need a solid understanding of your discipline and as the pace of scientific progress increases, life-long learning is vital to stay ahead of the curve and deliver real disruptive impact."
For How this means that he's ready to tackle the next big thing in science, opening up a world of possibilities not just on the small scale but also with the big picture.
"RMIT is equipping me to work at the forefront of science, exposing me to the future potential of nanomaterials and nanotechnologies," How says.
"My studies in the different fields of nanotechnology – including biomedical, spectroscopy and photonics – have led to my research in nanozymes where I am determining the antibacterial potential of copper oxide.
"I'm hoping this work will lead to developments in next generation biosensors."
Greentree says it’s the multidisciplinary nature of nanotechnology that is helping to revolutionise science.
"No other field of science has such potential to dramatically change the way we live," he says.
"Nanotechnology sits at the intersection of chemistry, physics, biology and engineering and to make a real impact requires combinations of all of these fields.
"It’s here that fundamental science gets translated into real products, or smart materials.
"That’s why nanotechnology is increasing in its importance; contributing greatly to the world economy and benefitting future generations."
Story: Rebecca McGillivray