FVSU Trains the Future Nanotechnology Workforce

by Mechell McCrary

Posted on Apr 09, 2021

Fort Valley State University biotechnology graduate students Arlese Owens and Jacquez Smith operate an advanced digital microscope for nanotechnology research.


Nanotechnology has become a general-purpose technology that could play a major role in research and development for the next decade.

This multidisciplinary technique involves conducting science, engineering and technology at 1 to 100 nanometers. New materials and devices can be created with potential applications in areas like nanomedicine, nanoelectronics and consumer products such as scratchproof eyeglasses and sunscreens.

"Think about the size of a billionth of a meter," described Dr. Hari Singh, associate professor of plant science and biotechnology at Fort Valley State University. "We are utilizing extraordinary properties of materials at very small levels."

He explained that materials at the nanoscale have enhanced properties like higher strength, lighter weight, higher thermal stability, greater chemical reactivity and more in comparison to their larger-scale counterparts.

"Nanotechnology is like health care. You cannot escape it," Singh emphasized. "This technology is used everywhere. It is the future."

Therefore, the accelerated growth of this industry has created a high demand for undergraduate and graduate students who have solid training and adequate knowledge of nanotechnology. Contributing to this demand, Singh is using a $137,165 grant from the Title III FUTURE Act funding on his proposal titled, "Creating Awareness and Training Opportunities in Nanotechnology (CATON)."

"Though there is a strong demand in both industry and government for graduates with training in nanotechnology, the growth of students graduating in this field was only at 2.99 percent in 2017," Singh said.

The FVSU researcher added that the percentage of graduates from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) is even less or none. He aims to strengthen academic instruction in nanotechnology by developing a nanotechnology laboratory at FVSU. The goal is to bring awareness and training opportunities for experiential learning and hands-on experience in this field.

"The focus of this grant is on academic quality. We want to prepare our students for careers with upcoming trends in science, engineering and technology," Singh said.

With the Title III grant, Singh plans to introduce this unique technology to undergraduates through a two-week peer mentoring training workshop starting in summer 2021. This training will include lectures and hands-on experiences in the laboratory. Other opportunities will involve research training through a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) senior research project and a full-day workshop called, "Know-Nano@FVSU." This workshop will be open to any students in a STEM discipline. In addition, students will attend a specialized conference with faculty.

Biotechnology graduate students Arlese Owens and Jacquez Smith are using their nanotechnology skills to experiment with superabsorbent hydrogels.

"This material can be used in agriculture, pharmaceuticals and textiles," Smith noted.

As part of her thesis, Owens is researching the extraction of biomass from waste to reduce water irrigation. The Fort Valley, Georgia, native is interested in continuing a career in research to help maintain water flow and food supply for the world. Assisting on the project, Smith, who is a native of Perry, Georgia, aspires to become a biotechnology entrepreneur.

Both students enjoy working in the biotechnology laboratory and engaging in nanotechnology research.

"Studying this technology is valuable because it keeps us on track for future job placement," Owens said. "We will already have the knowledge."

Dr. Ralph Noble, dean of FVSU's College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology, congratulated Singh on receiving the $137,165 grant. He is excited about the impact Singh's proposed activities could have on students in STEM disciplines.

The Department of Education supports this project through the Title III Part F Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act Funding. The grant is funded from 2020-2025.

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