Engineers apply scientific and mathematical knowledge to the design and construction of everyday products, machines, and structures. There are many branches of engineering, some of which can involve nanotechnology. Engineering generally requires a strong scientific background, problem-solving skills, analytical thinking, and close attention to details. In addition, most jobs in engineering involve teamwork and leadership opportunities. Engineers must complete at least a bachelor's degree, and some states require additional licensing or certification. Median salaries for engineers range from $67,000 to $81,000, depending on the particular discipline.
Mechanical engineering is the broadest field of engineering. Engineers in this field work with machinery and other such systems that convert energy into usable forms. They participate in every stage of a machine's production, from research and development to installation and maintenance. Specialized mechanical engineers are involved in nearly every aspect of nanotechnology, including the production of nanomaterials, computing, energy, and robotics.
Electrical engineers work with equipment that generates and distributes electric power. Electronics engineering, a subfield of electrical engineering, focuses on the electronic components of such devices as computers and telephones. Electrical engineers work on generators, transformers, and transmission lines, while electronics engineers work on integrated circuits and microprocessors. Microelectronics engineering concentrates on small-scale components, like transistors that make up computer chips. Nanotechnology could eventually make possible the development of smaller and more novel electronic components such as transistors made up of nanomaterials and light-generating nanoparticles for lightbulbs.
Chemical engineers are involved with the conversion of raw materials into useful forms. They work on developing products such as fertilizers, detergents, plastics, gasoline, and foodstuffs, and oversee projects such as water treatment and mineral refinement. Unlike scientists in a lab, chemical engineers generally concentrate on the large-scale production of marketable products. They must take into account a number of factors in designing chemical facilities and production processes, like cost efficiency, environmental safety, and transport methods. One of the more versatile fields of engineering, chemical engineering is also utilized in nanotechnology. Chemical engineers work in the production of nanoparticles and the development of other nanomaterials.
Biomedical engineers—the term often used interchangeably with “bioengineers”—bring the principles of engineering to medicine and the life sciences. Biomedical engineers design medical diagnostic and monitoring equipment, as well as devices such as prosthetics and artificial organs. Some biomedical engineers modify genetic material, either to create living organisms with certain desirable traits or for potential use in a nonbiological context, like components of electronic devices. Nanotechnology, which has great potential in a number of medical applications, is a valuable tool in the exciting field of biomedical engineering.
Optics, which brings together physics and engineering, is the study of phenomena related to light. Engineers in this field apply the science of optics to the design of various kinds of equipment. They design instruments such as microscopes and telescopes, in addition to optical sensors, optical communications networks, and lasers. Optical engineers are exploring nanotechnology as a means of creating faster communications networks, as well as in other applications.
Software engineers develop and customize computer software for particular industries or companies. Unlike other engineering disciplines, software engineering does not require an exceptionally strong scientific background. Software engineers designing software for nanotech research and development, however, should have a firm understanding of the concepts and potentials of nanotechnology. Nanotech labs and start-up companies generally require software to visualize matter at the nanoscale and create computer models in designing nanomaterials, pharmaceuticals, and other products.