Use AFM and STM to Introduce Nanotechnology

An Interview with Dr. Kevin Conley


Dr. Conley and students at Forsyth Technical Community College

North Carolina is one of the major Nanotech centers in the U.S. Dr. Kevin Conley at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina provides training in the nanotechnology skill set to serve students and employers in the region. The college’s two-year Associates Degree Program in Nanotechnology is the only one of its kind in the Southeastern U.S. and has been positively received by both students and employers.

The Nanotechnology degree program at Forsyth Tech is built on the Six Pillars of Nanotechnology: Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Engineering, Economics, and Ethics. As Dr. Conley explains, “the legacy of Nanotechnology will be multidisciplinary. In our program, we use the tools of physics and the materials of chemistry to study biological systems. All the while we must keep product development, intellectual property, and regulatory issues in mind.”

When looking to outfit an Atomic Force Microscopy laboratory for the first time, Dr. Conley chose Nanosurf products primarily due to the step-by-step upgrading ability, and the significantly lower cost of the product line. Forsyth Tech’s Nanotechnology program started in 2006 with a basic package including three STMs and a single AFM. In 2008 they acquired two Nanosurf ® easyScan 2 FlexAFMs for use in the biological AFM course.

Imaging with an AFM at Forsyth Technical Community CollegeImaging with an AFM at Forsyth Technical Community College

Dr. Conley was also sold on the portability. “The easyScan 2 literally comes in a suitcase. This portability makes it easy to take an AFM with me wherever I go to put on a demonstration for my program,” he explains. For educators working with limited funding, he suggests the purchase of a basic system, followed by accessories as more funding is secured and more specific needs come into focus. The Nanotechnology Program at Forsyth Tech has received funding from the Wachovia Foundation and the North Carolina BioNetwork.

The primary target of Dr. Conley’s program is to help his graduates find employment. Typically his students find employment in the nanomaterials and nanomedicine sectors. The most important thing, according to Dr.Conley, is to understand the demands of the local economy by engaging directly with the employers. These values continue to be the focal point around which the courses in his Nanotech program are developed. It has also helped his students get internships – which very often turn into full-time employment opportunities. The average age of students in Dr. Conley’s program is thirty-two years of age. They want to get right into a new and exciting field, find hands-on training, and move into an industry. Dr. Conley feels that community colleges will be in front of the curve when it comes to generating a work force in nanotechnology.

He explains that “graduates from my program can do everything a PhD does. My two-year graduates can take data, maintain equipment, and manage sample preparation. Meanwhile, the PhDs can focus on writing grants, developing their business model, directing the work of their employees, and making critical decisions.” In the future, Dr. Conley plans to expand into the field of nanomedicine and has submitted grants with the hope of securing funds. Forsyth Tech’s Center for Emerging Technologies in the Piedmont Triad Research Park is scheduled to open in 2014, and will include a new 35,000 square-foot facility for the Nanotechnology program. This new space will promote collaboration with industry and provide spaces for visiting start-up companies.