Nanotechnology research is supported by many industries:

  • Agriculture uses nanotechnology to protect plants from pests and to increase the energy efficiency of equipment such as greenhouses.
  • The chemical industry produces nanoscale materials and also uses them in the production of other materials.
  • In the energy industry, nanotechnology is used in petroleum refining and in about half of the new projects on energy conversion, energy storage, and carbon encapsulation in the last decade.
  • The cosmetics industry uses nanomaterials in emulsions and pigments.
  • In the electrical and electronics industry, nanotechnology is being used to create more energy-efficient and more miniaturized products.
  • Use of nanotechnology by the food industry is controversial, but the materials can make food seem creamier without additional fat and can intensify flavors and colors.
  • The instrumentation and measurement industry is using nanotechnology to improve sensitivity of instruments and to develop new ways of making measurements.
  • Nanotechnology is helping the medical devices and bioengineering industry to develop improved prostheses and replacements for body parts.
  • The pharmaceuticals industry is finding nanomaterials with medicinal properties and is developing ways to use nanomaterials for targeted delivery of drugs.
  • Nanomaterials are being used by the textiles industry as ingredients in fibers that are more durable and repellent of dirt and water.

Some of the scientists who do nanotechnology research are chemists, biochemists, materials scientists, physicists, and molecular biologists. The universities, government research laboratories, and private-sector employers who hire these scientists, especially for research work in a cutting-edge field such as nanotechnology, usually expect them to hold a Ph.D. degree. A postdoctoral appointment doing research in this field also can be helpful and is growing in importance. Several universities are centers of nanotechnology research and provide opportunities for doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers to do specialized work in this field.

Lab technicians aid the work of research scientists. They generally need at least an associate's degree in a science technology.

Also working in this field are chemical engineers, biomedical engineers, biomolecular engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, electronics engineers, and petroleum engineers. For R&D work, it is helpful to have at least a master's degree. Although licensure is necessary for engineers who offer their services to the public, it is usually not required for R&D work.

Engineering R&D projects usually involve many technicians. Many of them hold an associate's degree in an engineering technology, but accredited bachelor's degree programs in these subjects are also available. Some technical colleges near nanotechnology research centers have developed two-year degree programs in the technical skills needed to operate and maintain scanning tunneling microscopes and other high-tech equipment used in this field.

One way to gauge the hottest fields of nanotechnology research is to look at the business focuses of the enterprises that hold many patents in this field. The electronics company IBM is one of the major centers of nanotechnology research, and was the leading company to earn patents in 2018, at 775, according to a report by the research company StatNano. Other companies among the leading nanotechnology patent holders included Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., 487, and Samsung Display Co. Ltd., 261; the Regents of the University of California, 257; and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd., 255.  

The StatNano report also revealed that approximately 94 percent of the patents that Nanotek Instruments Inc. issued in 2018 were in the nanotechnology field. The next companies to issue the most nanotechnology-related patents were actually universitieis, specifically Tsinghua University, with nearly 44 percent of its patents in nanotechnology, and MIT, with nearly 21 percent of its patents in the nanotechnology field.

Research and development jobs tend to be concentrated in or near universities and colleges that are centers of nanotechnology investigation. On its Web site, the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) provides a list of colleges and universities with academic programs, from bachelor's up to doctoral degree level, focused on nanotechnology (

The link between universities and private-sector nanotechnology companies is strong. A tally of companies founded to develop and commercialize nanotechnologies discovered data on several hundred such firms. Most of them were recent start-ups, 80 percent with fewer than 30 employees. They were located mostly along the East and West Coasts and near universities, and in fact about half were spin-offs from universities. The investigators who compiled this information found a large number of scientific papers coauthored by university scientists and researchers at these firms.