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Nanotechnology Reviews

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Volume 3, Issue 2 (Apr 2014)


Nano-education from a European perspective: nano-training for non-R&D jobs

Ineke Malsch
Published Online: 2013-12-14 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ntrev-2013-0039


This article presents results of a study on the need for nanotechnology education and training in a variety of organisations in Europe. The organisations are active in dialogue and communication, regulation, or promotion of science, technology and innovation (ST&I). These new data are presented in the framework of recent trends in European Union policies governing education in nanotechnology. Respondents from all areas expressed interest in learning about nanoscience, nanomaterials, nanorisk assessment, and legal and social aspects of nanotechnology, preferably in their mother tongue. Most organisations active in dialogue and communication and regulation tend to be interested in specific aspects of nanotechnology that enter their agenda for a short time, and then shift focus to other topics that may not be related to nanotechnology. Respondents in ST&I promotion either need only superficial knowledge about nanotechnology (for government policy makers) or very in-depth knowledge about new trends in nanotechnology and their societal and economic aspects.

Keywords: dialogue; education; Europe; governance; nanotechnology

1 Introduction

The need to educate the workforce in nanotechnology has been put on the international policy and scholarly agendas by Mihail Roco (National Nanotechnology Initiative, USA) in 2001, who foresaw a global demand for trained nanotechnology personnel of 2 million individuals by 2015. [1] Despite this early start, strategies for nanotechnology worker education have not been discussed much in the scholarly literature. (Nanotechnology outreach and communication to the general public and secondary school education has been discussed much more, but this is beyond the scope of this article.) Roco [1, 2] pleaded for investment in nanotechnology education as an integral part of nanotechnology research programmes worldwide. From a critical perspective, Invernizzi and Foladori stressed the foreseen implications of the emergence of nanotechnology industry for low-skilled labour in traditional sectors, in particular in developing countries (e.g., [3–5]). Stephan et al. [6] analysed the early stage labour market for highly skilled nanotechnology workers. Schultz [7] analysed a case study of cooperation in the nanotechnology triple helix (university, industry, government). On a more practical level, nanotechnology curricula and teaching methods have also been discussed, in the Journal of Nano Education [8], books (e.g., [9, 10]), and other engineering education publications.

This article will discuss recent trends in European nanotechnology education policies, in particular those initiated by the European Commission. This European Union (EU) institution has been promoting nano-education as one leg in the “knowledge triangle” (research, education, and innovation) fostering nanotechnology. The effectiveness of this policy has been investigated by assessing numbers and types of nanotechnology curricula and courses offered in European networks and projects, and by universities and vocational training institutes. In addition, relevance of nano-education to the needs of employers has been investigated, with particular focus on large industrial companies and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Results of both types of studies will be summarised below. The need for staff trained in nanotechnology among other employers has not been examined to date. This article will present and discuss results of a qualitative study investigating these other employers’ needs for nanotechnology education.

2 Recent trends in European nano-education policies

In Europe, the European Commission has been integrating nanotechnology education in its policies since 2004. The European Commission Communication “towards a European strategy for nanotechnology” [11] highlighted several needs, including “promoting the interdisciplinary education and training of R&D personnel together with a stronger entrepreneurial mindset”. The subsequent EU nanotechnology Action Plan [12] listed several concrete actions to reinforce and coordinate nanoscience and nanotechnology (N&N) R&D “for economies of scale and to achieve synergies with education and innovation generating the triangle of knowledge needed for the European Research Area of Knowledge for Growth [COM(2005)118]”. These activities included:

  • the European Commission workshop on Education and Training in N&N (April 2005) (proceedings: [13]);

  • supporting activities including cross-border thematic networks and other actions; and

  • dedicated N&N Marie Curie actions (for mobility and training of PhD students and young researchers).

Furthermore, the European Commission called upon EU member states to foster interdisciplinary training and education for R&D in N&N (physics, chemistry, biology, (eco)toxicology, engineering, entrepreneurial studies, risk assessment, social and human sciences when appropriate). SMEs should be explicitly targeted, and students should be encouraged to benefit from the mobility support in N&N [12].

By 2007, several of these proposals had been implemented: the European Commission Directorate General (DG) Education funded ERASMUS MUNDUS masters courses in some areas of N&N. DG Research invested €161 million in Marie Curie actions in N&N (8% of the budget) [14]. In the period 2007–2009, €125 million had been invested in FP7 (Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technology Development) Marie Curie actions in N&N, and networks of excellence funded in FP6 as well as some European Technology Platforms made considerable contributions to training in N&N, focusing on interdisciplinarity and university-industry technology transfer. The European Research Council had invested €80 million in nanotechnology projects of excellent individual scientists and their groups. Furthermore, many European universities were creating nanotechnology courses and awarding masters degrees [15].

Several authors have published inventories of nanotechnology education in Europe over the years, but none of these claims to be comprehensive. The data do give an indication of the interest in nanotechnology at European universities [16, 17]. In 2004–2005, Nanoforum [18] identified 28 undergraduate programmes, 78 MSc courses, 19 PhD programmes, and 25 short courses in nanotechnology. EuroIndiaNet [19] identified 46 nanotechnology MSc courses in English starting in 2007 or later. Murday [20] lists 21 bachelor courses, 32 MSc, and 18 PhD courses in EU member states, compared with nine BS, 11 MSc, and 18 PhD courses in the USA. He also includes nano-education in other countries. The Institute of Nanotechnology “Nano, Enabling, and Advanced Technologies Post-graduate Course Directory” (NEAT) of nanotechnology masters courses includes 29 courses [21]. Kiparissides et al. [22] identified 27 bachelor courses in nanosciences and technologies, 106 MSc/PhD level courses, and five other degree courses in Europe, and 17 bachelors, 35 MSc/PhD, and 25 other degree courses in North America. These data indicate that a specialisation in nanotechnology at postgraduate level after a monodisciplinary undergraduate education is more common than a specialised nano-education from the undergraduate level. Kiparissides et al. [22] note that the overall numbers of courses with “nano” in the title is low compared with the total numbers of courses offered at universities, in Europe as well as North America.

By 2009, the European Commission envisaged that the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) could offer an impetus for development in Human Resources and innovation in N&N. The European Commission proposed to continue developing infrastructures and the education system, consistent with the multidisciplinary character of nanotechnology [15]. Over 70% of the 716 respondents to the European Commission consultation “Towards a strategic nanotechnology action plan (SNAP) 2010–2015” favoured more European Commission efforts to develop education and training in nanoscience and nanotechnology. For individual researchers, individual non-researchers, and research organisations this was the first priority. For industry it was the third priority [23]. The announced SNAP appears to have dropped from the policy agenda, but current European Commission activities in nanotechnology are still in line with the first action plan.

Currently, the European policy agenda for science, technology, and innovation is focused on the HORIZON 2020 programme (2014–2020). This approximately €80 billion programme (in the original budget requested by the European Commission) aims to support excellent science, industrial leadership, and target societal grand challenges. The abovementioned EIT plays a key role in this. The European Commission established it in 2008, with the mission to increase European sustainable growth and competitiveness by reinforcing the innovation capacity of the EU. This mission is implemented by educating the next generation innovators in Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) in selected areas. These KICs bring together key stakeholders in education, research, and innovation (the Knowledge Triangle). Until 2013, three KICs have been initiated, in climate change, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), and sustainable energy. The strategy for 2014–2020 foresees the launch of six more KICs: innovation for healthy living and active ageing, Food4Future – sustainable supply chain from resources to consumer, raw materials – sustainable exploration, extraction, processing and recycling, (first wave, 2014), urban mobility, added-value manufacturing, smart secure societies (second wave, 2018) [24]. None of the KICs is dedicated to nanotechnology, but nanotechnology and other key enabling technologies (KETs) are relevant to several KICs.

The overall aims of HORIZON 2020 include nurturing talent, forging close links with activities in the higher education sector including ERASMUS for all and knowledge alliances (DG Education), and Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions (DG Research and Innovation). According to the HORIZON 2020 impact assessment, “policies to promote knowledge triangle linkages remain problematic”. On the positive side, HORIZON 2020 is expected to offer the potential to share implementation tasks for future education programmes and the EIT is in a good position to integrate education, research, and innovation. On the negative side, knowledge triangle integration is hampered because it is not completely covered by HORIZON 2020, making cooperation with other European Commission programmes necessary. The structural funds offer funding for research and innovation, and EIT only covers parts of education policies and excludes Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policy [25].

On a more fundamental level, Maassen and Stensaker [26] criticised the European policies supporting the knowledge triangle for being incoherent. The EU reform agendas for education (the Bologna declaration, 1999, aiming at standardisation of mass higher education throughout the EU), research (Lisbon Strategy, 2000, fostering concentration on excellent universities, groups, and researchers), and innovation (open innovation, stimulating networks, research for private sector innovation, and economic growth in Europe) have different underlying rationales. This poses new challenges for universities trying to coherently adapt to these three knowledge areas [26].

In any case, nanotechnology is not treated separately in the HORIZON 2020 strategy, but included among the KETs deemed essential for industrial leadership. It remains to be seen how such less targeted policy will impact the emergence of nanotechnology education curricula in Europe in the coming years.

3 European employers’ needs for nano-education

On the demand side, several studies have mainly surveyed academic and industrial European employers about their needs for personnel with nanotechnology education and for nanotechnology training for their staff [27–35]. The respondents to these questionnaires were typically a mix of government, academic, and large and small company representatives.

This strong bias in available studies on the need for nanotechnology education makes it difficult for education institutes offering nanotechnology education to address the needs of non-industrial and non-academic employers. Invernizzi [5] indicates that such other employers may have specific needs for staff with nanotechnology education: a trade union representative complained that they had difficulties negotiating about nanotechnology regulation because the discussion was limited to technical aspects, and that they had difficulties hiring technical experts [5].

Given the strong focus on industrial innovation, it is not surprising that the needs for education and training of staff in non-industrial and non-academic organisations have not been investigated to date. This may well be the first qualitative study of the needs for nano-education in a wide variety of organisations in three interconnected “ecosystems” focusing on dialogue and communication, regulation, and ST&I promotion of nanotechnology, respectively. The concept “ecosystems” will be explained in Section 5.

Dialogue and communication includes civil society organisations, dialogue and communication consultants, media, political bodies, and public institutes. Regulation includes ministries and European Commission DGs responsible for Health, Employment, Consumer Protection, etc., as well as notified bodies/inspectors/authorities, political bodies, and international organisations. ST&I promotion includes ministries and European Commission DGs responsible for education, sciences and economic affairs, national research programmes and networks, funding councils, and industrial associations. Table 1 displays the types of organisations surveyed.

Table 1

Types of organisations surveyed.

The aim of this study was to gain insight into the broad diversity of possible interest in nanotechnology education among these non-traditional employers. Therefore, no attempt has been made to collect data on the size of the labour market for particular non-industrial skills in nanotechnology.

4 Methodology

The central research question is: “What knowledge and skills specific for nanotechnology are currently and will in the near to mid-term future be required for specialist staff employed by other (non-industrial, non-academic, and non-educational) employers?”

This question is further elaborated in the following sub-questions:

  • What (types of) other employers have been active in nanotechnology in the past 5 years and can be expected to continue in the near to mid-term future?

  • What types of nanotechnology-related activities are undertaken by these employers and their employees with nano-related tasks?

  • Which nanotechnology-related knowledge and skills would be required for each of the categories? Can gaps be identified in pre-existing education and training?

  • Which questions remain to be discussed?

The methodology used to investigate these questions is a combination of desk research, snowballing, and semi-structured interviews. These are commonly used qualitative research methods in social sciences. (The methodology is, for example, described in [36].) The desk research starts with an analysis of the Societal Employers database supplied by the National University of Ireland, Dublin/University College Dublin (NUID/UCD), the Centre for Bio-Nano Interactions. This analysis resulted in a selection of over 100 organisations that had apparently at least been involved in discussions on nanotechnology since 2008 and were planning to continue their engagement in the coming years. A total of 37 organisations were approached by e-mail requesting a telephone interview with a responsible manager and a person actually working on nanotechnology. In some organisations this was the same person. Some contact individuals suggested to forward the interview request to another organisation or individual in the same organisation. This “snowballing” extended the scope of relevant organisations. The individuals who agreed to an interview received a short explanation of the study and an indicative questionnaire before the interview. The interview was recorded and the transcript of the interview sent to the interviewee for corrections and additions. The interview texts were analysed and used as background information for the study.

5 Analysing the societal context

The organisations whose needs for nano-related education and training have been explored in the present study play roles in three distinct yet interconnected societal spheres, labelled “dialogue and communication”, “regulation”, and “science, technology, and innovation (ST&I) promotion”. These spheres are tentatively called “ecosystems” to emphasise the interrelatedness of the participating organisations, and to allow for investigating the dynamics in the three spheres on an equal footing. In the literature, the sphere of regulation, dialogue and communication, and the sphere of innovation policy tend to be analysed separately. In each domain, a distinct set of relevant players and stakeholders and their relationships are examined. Before presenting the results of the present study, the concept of “ecosystem” will be compared to the equivalent concepts in risk governance and innovation policy theories.

5.1 Risk governance

Ortwin Renn ([37], p. 274) distinguishes four major players in risk decision-making: political, business, scientific, and civil society players. These players should cooperate in framing the problem, generating and evaluating options, and arriving at a joint conclusion (c.f. [38]). Renn distinguishes four risk categories, of which two are relevant to the activities of the organisations studied in this article: uncertain and ambiguous risks [39].

After designing the relevant risk discourse in a pre-assessment stage, different sets of players should be engaged in discourses on uncertain and ambiguous risks. Uncertain risks call for reflective discourse involving agency staff, external experts, and two types of stakeholders: industry and directly affected groups. Ambiguous risks call for participatory discourse involving these same players plus the general public. Competence – to make sure that the state of the art in knowledge of risk issues is considered during the deliberations and that all participants are made literate in the issue itself and in using deliberative reasoning – is among the basic requirements of the participatory procedure ([37], chapter 8).

Beyond the risk decision-making process, risk governance is influenced by contextual factors including the organisational capacity and player networks (politicians, regulators, industry/business, non-governmental organisations, media, and the public at large). The organisational capacity includes competence and knowledge: providing the necessary education and training to specialists and the general public, for building up a culture of awareness and prevention ([37], chapter 9).

5.2 Innovation policy

According to an international group of innovation experts, innovation systems are shaped in a “dance” involving experts in innovation theory, innovation policy makers, and practitioners [40]. Innovation systems are described using different vocabularies, including “innovation ecosystem”. Most authors take into account the contributions of the traditional innovation triangle or “triple helix” including research community, industry, and government in innovation processes. Some authors also explore the potential contributions of other players such as civil society players (e.g., chapters by Susan E. Cozzens: Innovation and inequality, and Ruud Smits, Rutger van Merkerk, David H. Guston, and Daniel Sarewitz: The role of technology assessment in systemic innovation policy) [40]. Such an expanded group of players is still not mainstream in contemporary innovation policies and practices. The “ecosystem” of ST&I promotion as proposed in the present article can be considered to be synonymous with the traditional “innovation triangle” or triple helix.

6 Results

“What (types of) other employers have been active in nanotechnology in the past 5 years and can be expected to continue in the near to mid-term future?”

In each of the three ecosystems, different types of organisations interact and co-shape the development of nanotechnology in a particular way. These ecosystems are not independent, some organisations are active in more than one ecosystem, and the activities in each ecosystem influence activities in the other ecosystems. In the category ST&I promotion, the focus is on funding policies and accompanying measures for research and innovation in nanoscience and nanotechnology including priority setting and distributing the funding. In the category regulation, the focus is on decision making and implementing policies regulating nanomaterials and nanotechnologies in different stages of the life cycle (from materials via occupational safety via consumer protection to waste processing). In the category dialogue and communication, the focus is on public dialogue about both stimulating and regulating nanotechnology (Figure 1).

Types of undertaken activities related to nanotechnology.
Figure 1

Types of undertaken activities related to nanotechnology.

Over 100 organisations have been identified that have been active in nanotechnology for at least 5 years and demonstrate intentions to continue this engagement in the future. However, this does not mean that they see a need to hire personnel with specific education in nanotechnology. The perceived need for training staff in nanotechnology varies considerably. Typically, the organisations’ main function is in another sector, where their daily business is not in nanotechnology or natural science and engineering. Nanotechnology is only one of the issues on their table, and they typically are only looking at one or a few particular aspects of nanotechnology, such as safety of nanomaterials, funding new areas of science with high socioeconomic potential, stimulating young people to choose a career in science and technology, etc.

In the words of one of the interviewees: “Nanotechnology is not a discipline, nobody calls themselves a nanotechnologist. One has to specify subareas of nanosciences and technologies, such as nanotoxicology, occupational nanosafety, etc. No single person can understand all relevant aspects. Multidisciplinary cooperation is more important than a specific nanoeducation”.

Before drawing conclusions, a closer look should be taken at the specific activities each of the identified organisations is undertaking that are related to nanotechnology.

“What kinds of nanotechnology-related activities are undertaken by these organisations and their employees with nano-related tasks?”

Dialogue and communication: there are few organisations that specialise in dialogue and/or communication regarding nanotechnology (such as Innovation Society and Nature Nanotechnology). However, in general, the mission of organisations that participate in dialogue and communication regarding nanotechnology is unrelated to nanotechnology. Examples are occupational health and safety, consumer protection, chemicals safety, environmental protection, science communication, vocational education and training, or law and public policy making in general. Typically, only one or a few aspects of nanotechnology are relevant to the work of each organisation, such as properties of nanoparticles, protecting workers or consumers against exposure to nanomaterials, or the potential societal implications of investments in nanoscience, technology, and innovation (Figure 2).

The nano-dialogue and communication “ecosystem”.
Figure 2

The nano-dialogue and communication “ecosystem”.

Regulation: no organisation active in regulating nanomaterials and nanotechnologies focuses exclusively on nano. Three types of organisations can be distinguished: ministries and the European Commission that have to formulate new legislation or adapt existing legislation, international platforms that organise policy discussions about regulation (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, International Organisation for Standardisation, United Nations bodies, the European Commission), and authorities that have to control and enforce legislation. The tasks of these organisations require up-to-date knowledge and understanding of specific technical aspects of nanomaterials, risk assessment of uncertain risks, and whether or not current legislation is adequate to deal with nanomaterials. Regulators and risk assessment specialists find it difficult to understand how to integrate emerging and converging technologies, and pursue different strategies for acquiring the needed understanding.

Within the general area of nano-regulation, different subdomains can be distinguished, but information is also exchanged between these domains. The domains include chemicals regulation (regulation on registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals, REACH), occupational health and safety, consumer protection/regulation of particular products incorporating nanomaterials (e.g., cosmetics, food, biocides), and environmental protection. The staff of each organisation is typically focusing on one or more of these legislative domains and deal with a wide variety of new emerging technologies that should be covered by the legislation (Figure 3).

The nano-regulation “ecosystem”.
Figure 3

The nano-regulation “ecosystem”.

ST&I promotion: government departments responsible for public investments in nanotechnology tend to take strategic decisions in consultation with key stakeholders – representatives of the relevant research community and interested industrial sectors (Figure 4). Alternatively, governments just make available generic funding for Higher Education Institutes without setting priorities. In both cases, the policy makers tend to cover more areas of science, technology, and innovation than just nanotechnology. Intermediary organisations including funding councils and consultants in some cases need more in-depth understanding of nanotechnology to be able to advise the policy makers or to take funding decisions – depending on the specific national system of research and innovation. Representatives of the scientific community and industry need to understand what areas of nanotechnology are interesting for their stakeholders, but they may also benefit from expertise in their own constituency.

The nano-ST&I promotion “ecosystem”.
Figure 4

The nano-ST&I promotion “ecosystem”.

Given the diversity of nanotechnology-related activities undertaken by the studied organisations, no general recommendations can be made on what education or training in nanotechnology should be offered to these non-academic and non-industrial employers. Such recommendations should be adapted to the particular needs of different organisations. Some suggestions are discussed below.

6.1 General aspects

In all three categories, dialogue and communication, regulation, and ST&I promotion, respondents see a need for education and training in nanoscience, nanomaterials, nanorisk assessment, and legal and social aspects of nanotechnology. Teaching materials should preferably be offered in the mother tongue of the participants, especially for public awareness raising and vocational training, but also for regulators. Because most teaching materials on nanotechnology are available in English, this may require funding for translation of existing materials or development of culture-specific new materials in other EU languages.

Discussions about nanotechnology are at the forefront of scientific developments. Training on the job is deemed an adequate way to keep up to date. However, it can be difficult to grasp the implications of reported scientific breakthroughs for non-experts. Furthermore, identifying knowledgeable experts to ask for advice on a particular subarea in nanotechnology can be challenging for people working only part-time in nanotechnology.

6.1.1 Dialogue and communication

The specific topics respondents want to know more about are listed in Table 2. These are mainly related to the particular aspect of nanotechnology one is dealing with and the particular role of the organisation. The topics vary from technical details (graphene, third and fourth generation nanomaterials) to safety aspects (nanoparticles in waste, nanotoxicology) and job-related training (nano for journalists).

Table 2

Topics dialogue and communication players would like to learn about.

The methods used to learn can be diverse. This also depends on the organisation. Some smaller organisations, such as civil society organisations and media have no or limited funds for education and training of staff. In those cases, capacity building projects (e.g., nanotechnology capacity building non-governmental organisations for civil society organisations) or short targeted courses (e.g., nano for journalists) can be a viable and preferred solution. Non-governmental organisations and trade unions have identified current gaps in training. They express interest in new EU calls aiming to train people in nano under the coming HORIZON 2020 programme.

Owing to the rapid developments in nanotechnology and the discussions at the frontier of developments in science and technology, conferences, workshops, access to literature, and relevant experts is mostly preferred to formal education and training courses. Some organisations that are closer to academia and industry have easy access to these; others have more difficulties encountering knowledgeable experts.

6.1.2 Regulation

Regulators have mentioned several topics they would like to know more about, listed in Table 3. Besides some general aspects, this includes not only nanotoxicology and nanofood safety but also historical, governance, and public engagement aspects. One expert suggested to “teach risk assessment as a new way of thinking about new technologies, interdisciplinarily”.

Table 3

Topics regulators would like to learn about.

Some governmental organisations have formal strategies and budgets for training staff. According to some respondents, this may either not include technical training, or there may be budget and time constraints that prevent access to suitable training. One respondent suggested that the “currently offered nanotechnology courses are either too scientific or too light weight”. Staff of notified bodies/inspectors, etc., responsible for nano-regulation in some cases foresee the need for training, as they lack the educational background to cope with the issues.

6.1.3 ST&I promotion

Respondents working in promotion of nanoscience, technology, and innovation mostly end up in their job after working for some years in academic or industrial research. Prior experience in research in nanotechnology is deemed preferable, rather than a specific degree in nanotechnology. There is interest in including courses in “accompanying measures” in the university curricula in natural sciences and engineering, but two respondents who mention this have different ideas about the scope and weight of these courses (voluntary additional or 10–15% of the curriculum). Respondents do not really know if such courses are already included in university curricula and what type of accompanying skills are included. Learning to communicate and cooperate with experts from different disciplines is also deemed important. Universities could, for example, organise cafe-style discussions to teach this. Table 4 displays topics that ST&I promoters would like to learn about.

Table 4

Topics ST&I promoters would like to learn about.

7 Discussion

The following questions remain to be discussed. Some respondents suggested investigating the need for reskilling workers in manufacturing and teachers who have not learned about nanotechnology during their education but are confronted by the introduction of nanomaterials and nanotechnologies. They should be assisted in adapting skills and learning about nano-issues as science or production line changes. Worker and teacher training are not addressed in the current EU policy governing nano-education that is focused on R&D in industry and SMEs rather than production or education. This falls beyond the scope of the present study but could be an issue for further research. Furthermore, it has become clear in the present study that many employees in these other organisations are busy people who may not know what they do not know. Offering them useful knowledge at the right time may be challenging. In a follow-up study the usefulness of currently available sources of information about nanotechnology could be investigated. For example, could public outreach and science communication regarding nanotechnology help address some of the needs of professionals in these other organisations? Or could open access in the (nano)science literature facilitate access to experts and expertise for professionals in these other organisations?

8 Conclusions

The central research question of the present study is: “What knowledge and skills specific for nanotechnology are currently and will in the near to mid-term future be required for specialist staff employed by other (non-industrial, non-academic, and non-educational) employers?”

The answer to this question is different for organisations active in each of the three distinct “ecosystems”. The “ecosystem” dialogue and communication includes organisations that engage in public dialogue about nanotechnology or that communicate to target audiences about nanotechnology or both. The “ecosystem” regulation of nanomaterials includes government bodies that engage in policy making and government agencies that oversee compliance with existing regulations. It consists of interconnected fields including regulation of chemical substances, occupational health and safety, consumer protection, and environmental protection. The “ecosystem” nanoscience, technology, and innovation promotion includes government bodies and consultants that focus on policy making and a variety of intermediary organisations that carry out accompanying measures to nano-R&D, including funding councils, patent organisations, consultants, etc.

Respondents from all three “ecosystems” expressed interest in learning about nanoscience, nanomaterials, nanorisk assessment, and legal and social aspects of nanotechnology. Teaching materials should preferably be offered in the mother tongue of the participants, especially for public awareness raising and vocational training, but also for regulators. Because most teaching materials about nanotechnology are available in English, this may require funding for translation of existing materials or development of culture-specific new materials in other languages.

Most organisations active in the “ecosystem” dialogue and communication tend to be interested in specific aspects of nanotechnology that enter their agenda for a short time, and then shift focus to other topics that may not be related to nanotechnology. Examples include graphene, nanoparticles in waste, etc. Respondents active in regulation have similar temporary needs for very specific knowledge about health, safety, and/or environmental aspects of nanomaterials or nanotechnologies in products or manufacturing. Respondents in ST&I promotion either need only superficial knowledge about nanotechnology (for government policy makers) or very in-depth knowledge about new trends in nanotechnology and their societal and economic aspects.

The preferred ways of learning this knowledge and skills related to nanotechnology varies. The organisations covered in this study rarely expect to hire new staff with specific nanotechnology education, but some may hire personnel with postgraduate R&D experience in a nano-related topic. For current employees who need to learn specific aspects of nanotechnology, different ways of learning could be relevant:

  • specific courses, conferences, or projects for the staff;

  • training on the job/learning by doing; and

  • networking/asking experts inside/outside the organisation.

Respondents made some suggestions for the nanotechnology curricula offered by universities. Students should learn how to work in interdisciplinary teams. This could be taught by café-style discussions between professors from different disciplines. Some respondents favoured inclusion of “accompanying aspects” (social and economic aspects) in university curricula, either voluntarily or as a substantial part of the curriculum.

There appears to be room for follow-up study on reskilling workers and teachers who are confronted with the introduction of nanomaterials and nanotechnologies in their work. In addition, suitable ways to offer relevant knowledge to regulators, ST&I policy makers, and professionals active in dialogue and communication for which nanotechnology is only one issue among many could also be taken up in future research.


This study was carried out in the project “Nanotechnology Education for Industry and Society” (NanoEIS) that received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under grant agreement no. 319054. The database of participants in nanotechnology-related events was supplied by Dr. Iseult Lynch, NUID/UCD, Ireland. Comments on the draft by partners in the NanoEIS projects are gratefully acknowledged. The following individuals have cooperated in this study through an interview by telephone or in two cases by responding by e-mail to the questionnaire: Dr. Christoph Meili, Innovation Society, Switzerland; Dr. Jorge Costa David and Mr. Alick Morris, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Unit EMPL B3: Health, Safety, and Hygiene at Work, European Commission, Luxemburg; Dr. Gerd Bachmann and Dr. Christian Busch, VDI-TZ, Düsseldorf, Germany; Dr. Elvio Mantovani and Dr. Andrea Porcari, AIRI/Nanotec IT, Italy; Dr. Aida Ponce, European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), Brussels; Dr. Erja Heikkinen MinEdu Finland (by e-mail); Dr. Paulo Martins RENANOSOMA/Observatory Brazil; Mr. Steve Morgan, DEFRA, UK; Dr. Andreas Jungbluth FLAD & FLAD Communication GmbH, Germany; Dr. Thomais Vlachogianni, MIO-ECSDE; Dr. Peter Kearns and Dr. Jacqueline Allen (e-mail), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris, France; Dr. Michael Ryan, Science Foundation Ireland, Dublin; Prof. Dr. Myrtill Simkó, ITA, Nanotrust Project, Austria; Mr. Mico Tatalovic, SCIDEV.NET, UK; Dr. Fabio Pulizzi, Nature Nanotechnology, UK; Dr. Merike Soodla, Health Board, Estonia (by e-mail); Dr. Victor Veefkind, European Patent Office, The Netherlands.


About the article

Ineke Malsch

Ineke Malsch graduated in Physics (Utrecht University, The Netherlands, 1991) and holds a PhD in Philosophy (thesis: Ethics and Nanotechnology, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, 2011). She has built up her expertise in ethical and societal aspects of nano- and emerging technologies since 1995. She has been the director of her own consultancy Malsch TechnoValuation since 1999 (www.malsch.demon.nl) and has over 10 years’ experience participating in international and multidisciplinary projects regarding nanotechnology in its societal context with public and private partners. She has authored an earlier article on nano-education from a European perspective in 2008.

Corresponding author: Ineke Malsch, Malsch TechnoValuation, Vondellaan 90, 3521 GH Utrecht, The Netherlands, e-mail:

Received: 2013-10-03

Accepted: 2013-11-04

Published Online: 2013-12-14

Published in Print: 2014-04-01

Citation Information: Nanotechnology Reviews, ISSN (Online) 2191-9097, ISSN (Print) 2191-9089, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ntrev-2013-0039.

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©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. BY-NC-ND 4.0

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