What You'll Do
Imagine a tiny device that pilots through the body and identifies and blots out small clusters of cancer cells before they can spread. What if the entire Library of Congress could be contained in a box the size of a sugar cube?
According to the U.S. National Science Foundation, these types of extraordinary accomplishments are fast becoming a part of our reality. Welcome to the world of molecular engineering—sometimes called nanotechnology or molecular manufacturing—which involves the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale.
Molecular engineers work in virtually every industry, including pharmaceutical research, materials science, robotics, mechanical engineering and biotechnology. Because molecular engineering is considered a “general-purpose technology,” it has the potential to impact almost all industries and areas of society. Molecular engineering will create durable, smart products for the medical, transportation and agriculture industries, opening doors to careers in these, and other, in-demand fields.
The Future of Molecular Engineering
The future of molecular engineering is limitless, and career prospects are promising. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job opportunities are excellent in certain related fields, such as biomedical engineering. However there is significant debate on the implications of nanotechnology because it raises the same issues as any new technology: what is its impact upon the environment, and what are the prospects for global disaster?
Schools & Degrees
Colleges and universities across the U.S. offer degree programs in related fields of engineering, such as chemical engineering, environmental and bio-molecular engineering at the bachelor’s, masters and doctoral level. Because it is an emerging field, degree programs focusing entirely on molecular engineering are often considered special track programs and are only offered in tandem with other engineering degree programs.
K. Eric Drexler, PhD, a researcher and author whose work focuses on advanced nanotechnologies, advises students interested in entering the field to broaden their studies to include fundamental courses in mathematics, mechanics, chemistry, thermodynamics and electromagnetics in order to fully
thrive in a career in molecular engineering.
Molecular engineers are part of the larger fields of biomedical engineering and chemical engineering. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for biomedical engineers is $85,620, while chemical engineers earn $98,340. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
Sources: Metamodern.com/2010/02/24/how-to-study-for-a-career-in-nanotechnology/; crnano.org/whatis.htm