Celebrating Two Decades of Innovation: Student Achievements Shine at National Nanotechnology Initiative

Student Success at National Nanotechnology Initiative 20th Anniversary Symposium
Far left and right: Branden Brough (NNCO Director) and Quinn Spadola (Deputy Director). Second from right: Kathleen Rubins, NASA Astronaut. Second from left: Pasadena Community College student Nayely Rolon-Gomez is majoring in laser technology and electronics technology and responsible for Poster U5, part of MNT-CURN Cohort 2, under mentor Dr. Atilla Ozgur Cakmak at Grand Valley State University (not in photo). Image Credit: National Nanotechnology Coordination Office

In a unique convergence of minds and ideas, the 20th Anniversary of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) Symposium showcased the monumental strides in nanotechnology. It spotlighted student involvement with posters describing the next wave of innovations, which MNT-EC is always keen to see.

From green technology to quantum computing, the advancements we are making in nanotechnology are solving some of our Nation’s greatest challenges.

– President Joe Biden

This quote from President Biden not only highlights the importance of the innovations being celebrated at the symposium but also sets the stage for discussing the diverse community united by their work in nanotechnology, as described in the following paragraphs. (Editor’s Note: You can download the full letter from the President at the end of this post and read the extracted full text as well.)

Uniting a Diverse Community

According to the Nano.gov website announcement, “Scientists and engineers across many fields and disciplines are united by their work at the nanoscale. Their diverse efforts have helped produce everything from faster microchips to powerful mRNA vaccines. The transformative impact of this work has been spurred by the coordination and focus on U.S. nanotechnology established by the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act in 2003. Celebrating the NNI’s broad impact and envisioning the future, this symposium brought together voices from across the emerging technology landscape. Experts spoke on the importance of nanotechnology in quantum engineering, optics, environmental health and safety (EHS), plastics, DEIA, microelectronics, medicine, education, manufacturing, and more. Attendees included hundreds of researchers, policymakers, members of industry, educators, students, and the public – both online and in person, and conversations centered on the strategic vision for the next twenty years of the NNI.”

Student Innovators at the Forefront

Central to the event, from our perspective, was the NNI Student Poster Session, a testament to the NNI’s commitment to nurturing the next generation of nanotechnologists. There were 11 undergraduate teams, with more at the graduate/PhD level. College students from across the nation presented their research, offering fresh perspectives on challenges ranging from healthcare to environmental sustainability: 

  • Teams from the University of Maryland delved into the potential of bacterial extracellular vesicles under various conditions, underscoring the intersection of microbiology and nanotechnology.
  • The George Washington University’s exploration of bio-inspired surfaces, simulating shark skin for potential applications, highlighted the innovative spirit driving student research.
  • Contributions from Pasadena City College and Mesa Community College showcased projects on solar energy conversion and carbon chain synthesis, reflecting the broad spectrum of nanotechnology’s impact.
  • Kingsborough Community College and Baruch College students presented a review of CAR-T cell designs and nanotechnology’s efficacy in cancer therapy, showcasing the critical intersection of biomedical research and nanotechnological applications.
  • Northwest Vista College students explored the significance of finding organic compounds in Martian cave systems, illustrating the interdisciplinary nature of nanotechnology with implications for space exploration and the search for extraterrestrial life.

These presentations demonstrated the students’ ingenuity and pivotal role in advancing nanotechnology’s frontiers. Full list below.

Keynote Inspirations

The symposium shared insights from luminaries such as Dr. Arati Prabhakar, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology; Chad Mirkin, and Kathleen Rubins, who have significantly contributed to nanoscience and space exploration, respectively. Their speeches underscored the transformative potential of nanotechnology and the importance of continuous innovation and collaboration.

Looking Forward

As we celebrate the past 20 years of nanotechnology under the NNI’s guidance, the symposium served as a practical (and visionary) forum for envisioning the future. The emphasis on student involvement and the cross-disciplinary dialogue highlights the NNI’s strategic vision for the next two decades: a future where nanotechnology continues to address societal challenges, powered by the fresh perspectives and relentless curiosity of student researchers. Comprehensive and inclusive efforts like the National Nanotechnology Initiative partly inspire our Micro Nanotechnology Collaborative Undergraduate Research Network (MNT-CURN).

For college students and professors alike, the NNI 20th Anniversary Symposium was not just a reflection on past achievements but a clarion call to contribute to a future where nanotechnology remains at the forefront of solving the world’s most pressing problems.

Full list also found on the NNI website link above, but all 11 undergraduate posters summarized here:

  • (U1) University of Maryland, College Park: Study how different storage conditions affect bacterial vesicles, with implications for healthcare and biology.
  • (U2) The George Washington University: Inspired by nature, this team created shark skin-like surfaces using Glancing Angle Deposition (GLAD) to improve material designs.
  • (U3) Kingsborough Community College and Baruch College: Review of nanotechnology’s role in enhancing CAR-T cell cancer therapies, focusing on efficacy.
  • (U4) University of Maryland, College Park: This study examines the impact of temperature on storing bacterial vesicles, which is essential for medical research.
  • (U5) Pasadena City College: Research on nano-optic surfaces for more efficient solar cells / solar panels, aiming at green energy solutions.
  • (U6) Mesa Community College: Work on producing linear carbon chains, which are fundamental for the development of new materials and electronics.
  • (U7) Saint Louis University: Development of laser-driven microrobots for precise small-scale operations, applicable in various fields.
  • (U8) University of Florida: Enhancing thermoelectric properties through ball milling for better energy devices.
  • (U9) Northwest Vista College: Searching for life-essential organic compounds in Martian caves, bridging nanotech and space exploration.
  • (U10) Mercer County Community College: Utilizing neural networks to design better mRNA cancer vaccines, combining tech with healthcare.
  • (U11) University of Maryland, College Park: Investigating how tiny bacterial particles affect biofilm formation, which is relevant to medical and environmental studies.

Download above or here.

Letter from President Biden
March 5, 2024
I send my warmest greetings to the members of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)
and all those celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and
Development Act.

Since it was signed into law, the 21 st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act
has driven innovation by challenging the next generation of scientists and researchers to think
big by thinking small. From green technology to quantum computing, the advancements we are making in nanotechnology are solving some of our Nation’s greatest challenges. And by
creating a policy framework for an all of Government approach to research and development,
lowering the barrier to access advanced scientific tools, sharing diverse perspectives, supporting workforce development, and so much more, members of the NNI are helping to harness the progress we are making for good.

My Administration is building on the work of the NNI by supporting the scientific community
and promoting research and development. During my first year in office, we elevated the
Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to a Cabinet-level position
to lead major initiatives like artificial intelligence and leverage the latest scientific advancements
to improve health outcomes for all Americans, with the help of solutions at the nanoscale. And
with support from the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, we are investing
billions of dollars in groundbreaking research and development, including work performed by
the NNl that will help create incredible opportunities for our country and the entire world——
including the largest investment to combat climate change in history.

As we commemorate this milestone anniversary of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research
and Development Act, may we all remain inspired by the limitless possibilities of what we can
achieve in America when we work together. I have never been more optimistic about the future
of this great Nation, in part because of the members of the NNI community who are helping to
ensure we forever remain at the forefront of scientific discovery.

MNT-EC Student Wins Award at SACNAS

Cal Poly student and Pasadena City College alum, Tan Nguyen, recently garnered the Best Poster Presentation Award in the General Chemistry Category at the 2023  Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Diversity in STEM Conference held in Portland, Oregon. 

MNT-CURN Chemistry Pasadena City College Alum Tan Nguyen Wins SACNAS Award with Research on Gold Nanoparticles

As a MNT-EC student, Nguyen’s award-winning presentation delved into the intricate world of gold conjugate nanoparticles, showcasing the innovative strides being made in the field.

View some photos of the conference day below. At the end of this post, you will find the full PDF poster (and a link to download it) and the text abstract. 


Tan Nguyễn Chemistry

Tan Nguyen wins the best chemistry poster award at SACNAS

Understanding Electronic Properties of Gold Nanoparticles and Antibody-Conjugated Gold Nanoparticles For Use in Photothermal Cancer Medicine Abstract:

“Gold (Au) nanoparticles have been known as excellent nanomaterial candidates in multiple biomedical applications and cancer treatments including drug delivery, biomedical imaging and photothermal therapy due to their unique properties and non-cytotoxic effects on human bodies. Streptavidin is a protein isolated from the bacterium Streptomyces Avidinii that can covalently bind to the surface of Au nanoparticles to facilitate the delivery of Au nanoparticles to cancer cells for treatment. However, the electronic properties of the Streptavidin-conjugated Au nanoparticles on a molecular level are not well understood. In this study, we examine how the conjugation with Streptavidin antibody alters the electron energy profile of the Au nanoparticles through electron excitation in order to shed light on the molecular and chemical characteristics of Streptavidin-conjugated Au nanoparticles. We synthesized Au nanoparticles at Yin lab at UC Riverside and measured the absorbance values of Au nanoparticles and Streptavidin-conjugated Au nanoparticles from 400 to 650nm. We then conducted the Ultrafast Femtosecond Laser technique to capture the electron kinetics of Au and Streptavidin-conjugated Au nanoparticles after 1,2,3,4, and 5 picosecond of excitation. We found that there was a little discrepancy between the peaks of Au and Streptavidin-conjugated Au nanoparticles in terms of absorbance, and electrons in the Streptavidin-conjugated Au nanoparticles were excited and returned to the ground state faster than the non-conjugated Au nanoparticles. These results suggested that the conjugation with Streptavidin proteins affects the electronic properties of Au nanoparticles, which can allow scientists to further optimize these conjugated molecules to support photothermal medicine for cancer treatments.”


The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) awarded over one hundred graduate and undergraduate students from historically excluded communities for their research and presentation skills at their premier event, the National Diversity in STEM Conference held in Portland from October 26 through October 28, 2023. Student research presentations help equip young researchers with the skills and mentoring they need to be successful on their STEM journey. This experience helps them refine presentation skills, receive one-on-one mentoring and feedback on research, and connect with a supportive community of peers, mentors, and role models. 

You can read about all of the presentations and posters in the SACNAS Abstract Book