Nanotechnologists are at the forefront of science and technology, working in academia and industry to develop new materials, methods or procedures on the nano-scale

As a nanotechnologist you'll work with matter on the nanoscale with the aim of manipulating or developing new materials, equipment, drugs or diagnostic tools. Your work could be based within:

  • biology
  • chemistry
  • computer science
  • engineering
  • manufacturing
  • medicine
  • physics.

One nanometre (nm) is one billionth of a metre and you'll typically work within a range of 1 to 100nm. You'll design and conduct experiments based around nano-scale systems in your given field and will analyse the results to develop practical applications like new devices, procedures or materials.

You may also be involved in computational research which uses simulated experiments to increase theoretical knowledge and aid in the design and development of practical experiments.

Nanotechnology research is often collaborative between different researchers, departments or institutions and crosses the boundary between academia and industry.


The nature of your work can depend on whether you're based in industry or academia. However, in general you'll need to:

  • plan and conduct experiments to investigate and analyse nano-scale systems
  • extrapolate data to develop theories to explain experimental results
  • write up results in reports and/or scientific papers and maintain records of results
  • operate, or design and construct, complex instrumentation
  • design and develop new materials, products or devices based on findings
  • arrange the testing of products or materials
  • write applications for funding
  • collaborate with other scientists, often including those from other disciplines
  • teach or lecture students or trainees
  • develop innovative methods to improve existing products or procedures
  • consider profit/loss margins in any work carried out
  • keep up to date with advances in your field of study and wider research through specialist literature and meetings
  • disseminate new findings at departmental, institutional or national meetings and conferences, including presenting to a variety of audiences
  • at higher levels, manage a research team (including technicians and support staff) or a group of research students.


  • If you're doing a PhD and have been awarded a studentship, it will usually come with a tax-free stipend to help cover living costs. This is currently at least £18,622, although some may be higher if industry funded or if you're based in London.
  • As a nanotechnologist working in research it's likely you'll earn between £25,000 and £35,000 once you've completed your PhD.
  • At a senior level, nanotechnologists can earn between £30,000 and £40,000. Salaries at this level vary between sectors.
  • University professors or similar can earn upwards of £60,000.

For current details on PhD studentship stipends, see UKRI - Studentships and Doctoral Training.

Larger companies typically offer higher salaries than smaller firms, but in a small company the opportunity for promotion may arise at an earlier stage.

There's a nationally agreed single-pay spine in place for higher education roles in most institutions in the UK. See the University and College Union (UCU) for details.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll typically work 37 to 40 hours a week, although additional hours may sometimes be required to meet deadlines. In academia, you might have to occasionally work irregular hours due to teaching responsibilities or limitations on equipment access time. Shift work may be needed within industry roles.

Part-time work may be possible.

In academia, contract lengths may be dependent on funding grants.

What to expect

  • As a nanotechnologist you'll be mostly based in the lab, but you may need to work in other settings depending on the nature of your current project.
  • Some research can involve working with dangerous or toxic materials under strict safety protocols.
  • Early academic posts are likely to be short-term contracts.
  • Jobs are widely available across the UK, but posts related to specialist research may be limited to fewer institutions. There may be opportunities to work abroad in particular specialisms, so a willingness to travel, at least for limited periods, may increase your prospects.
  • Some areas of science, engineering and manufacturing are underrepresented. Initiatives are in place to help with this including WISE and the Women's Engineering Society (WES), which work to encourage more women into the industry. The London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) also has equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives.
  • You may need to travel to visit other laboratories in the UK and abroad to set up and carry out experiments and tests. You may also attend national or international conferences and meetings. Funding is often available for such meetings depending on individual grants.


To enter into research in nanotechnology you'll need a good honours degree (2:1 or above) in a related subject, such as:

  • biology/molecular biology
  • biochemistry or chemical biology
  • chemistry
  • computer science
  • electronics
  • engineering
  • materials science
  • nanoscience
  • physics.

Most employers will require you to have either a research-based MSc or PhD in a related area, or be working towards one, particularly for roles in research, development and medicine. You may be able to secure a position as a lab technician without postgraduate study, but progression will be limited.

A list of undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD nanotechnology courses in the UK and abroad is available at Nanowerk - Nanotechnology Degree Programs.

Search postgraduate courses in nanotechnology.

Funding is made available to research institutions via the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) which is part of UKRI. This is then passed on to students in the form of scholarships, bursaries and studentships. Contact the individual institution to find out more about the funding options.

If you're planning to do postdoctoral research or study, you should identify researchers in your field of interest using professional networking sites, directories, scientific journals and your own network of contacts. You can also discuss your research interests with your academic supervisor. Make applications for research degrees early on so that departments have time to apply for funding on your behalf.


You'll need to have:

  • technical and scientific skills
  • analytical skills and a logical approach to problem solving
  • the capacity to deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively
  • numerical skills
  • the ability to write reports and papers for publication
  • communication and presentation skills
  • the ability to use computer-controlled equipment
  • teamworking and project management skills
  • the ability to manage both time and budgets effectively
  • attention to detail
  • self-motivation and patience.

Work experience

Practical laboratory experience and knowledge of the techniques used, can be useful. Speculative applications to potential academic supervisors is a good route into work experience or shadowing. Also look for opportunities within industry so you can see how the two environments differ and where your preferences lie.

Some degrees will include a work placement or year out. Look for placements related to nanotechnology to help you find out more about the role and start to develop a network of contacts.

The London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) occasionally offers summer research projects, placements and internships within its research groups to undergraduate students. You need to be able to show your motivation for the field and must have a strong academic background. It also has contact details for academics and researchers within the LCN, which you could use to find out about any potential work experience opportunities.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.


Nanotechnologists are typically employed in:

  • universities and research institutions
  • government laboratories
  • hospitals and clinics
  • industry
  • private research facilities.

Within industry, you can work in a range of sectors for employers such as:

  • aviation and aerospace engineering companies
  • defence companies
  • electronics manufacturers
  • IT and technology companies
  • health and pharmaceutical companies
  • food and drink manufacturers.

For a list of nanotechnology universities and research laboratories worldwide, see Nanowerk.

Research and development is not restricted to major companies - small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can also offer excellent careers to nanotechnologists.

Job opportunities may also be available through Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP). A KTP is a joint project between a graduate, an organisation and a 'knowledge base', such as a university or a research organisation, which allows PhD graduates to apply their research to a commercial environment.

Look for job vacancies at:

Vacancies are also advertised via LinkedIn or on specific company or university websites.

Specialist recruitment agencies such as SRG and Cranleigh can also be a useful source of scientific vacancies.

Professional development

If you're studying for a PhD while working in a research post, you will be supported by a supervisor. You're likely to get additional training, which could be offered by the institution or by Vitae, an organisation that supports the professional development of researchers.

In industry, most employers will offer you training and support to make sure that you stay up to date with research techniques and new technologies in the field.

You may also attend external training courses on technical developments and will be expected to keep up with developments in your field through independent research. Attending conferences is often expected within the job role and on occasions you may be asked to present some of your research.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is important throughout your career and support in this area is provided by UKRI. Also consider becoming a member of a professional body, which will demonstrate your commitment to your profession as well as indicating a level of competency in your field. Relevant organisations vary depending on your branch of nanotechnology but may include:

With experience you may become eligible for Chartered Scientist (CSci) status, which provides formal recognition of your knowledge, experience and professionalism.

Career prospects

Career structures vary with each employer, but career paths tend to be well-defined in all sectors and are dependent on achieving research goals.

Initially, scientists in industry work in hands-on functions to increase knowledge and practical skills. As experience grows, you'll take on greater responsibility for projects and may begin to manage the work of other scientists, before eventually becoming a project manager or technical director (job titles vary between employers).

In academic research, a PhD is usually followed by one or more short-term postdoctoral research contracts of up to three years in length. You may take up advertised positions or apply speculatively to an established scientist you'd like to work with. Position may be based in laboratories worldwide, so a willingness to relocate can be helpful for progression. Academic promotion depends on research achievement, which is measured by the quality and quantity of original papers published. Success in attracting funding will be dependent on the time-consuming process of making funding applications.

Progress is then to a lectureship and ultimately to a professor post with management responsibilities. However, this is only possible if you're successful in securing funding for your own research project and group. Permanent research posts without teaching or administrative responsibilities are rare and highly sought after in academia. You can enhance your progression by developing an international network of people working in the same field.

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