There’s small, and then there’s nanoscale small. Defined as a billionth of a meter, the nanoscale — or nanoscopic scale — is used to measure atoms, particles, and other components too small to be viewed with the naked eye. Nanoscience represents an exciting and relatively new area of study that combines several facets of the scientific community, including engineering, chemistry, physics, and biology. It’s used to further technology through large advancements of a very small nature.
Modern nanotechnology is used in industries such as health care, food safety, energy, environmental protection, transportation, manufacturing, and communications. One example of nanoengineering is nanosensors, which are used to detect food contaminants such as salmonella. Nanoengineered materials also appear in a range of automotive products, such as fuel additives, rechargeable batteries, and catalytic converters. Although they may be difficult to see, the results of nanoengineering are all around us.
An advanced education in nanoscale science and engineering is ideal for those interested in opportunities for different nanoengineering jobs. Education can also affect a nanoengineer’s salary. Many high-level degree programs offer specifically tailored courses to prepare students for work in this field, which is becoming increasingly applicable across industrial sectors.
What Is Nanoengineering?
Although it’s often used synonymously with the more general term “nanotechnology,” nanoengineering specifically focuses on the engineering aspects of the field: the use of nanomaterials to design and build structures, machines, and engines on the nanoscale, manipulating materials at the atomic level.
Working at the nanoscale can be complicated, because how a material acts at an atomic level is different from how it acts on a larger scale. The properties of nanoparticles within various materials are subject to fluctuations and can yield powerful results. This offers a vast array of opportunities for engineers who are looking for ways to enhance certain materials. For instance, some fabrics feature nanoscale additives to prevent them from wrinkling.
One of the most common examples of what nanoengineering is on a large-scale application is the manufacturing of microchips. Microchips are among the most complex pieces of technology, featuring patterns and components so small that they must be manufactured using tools that operate on a molecular level. The stencils used in microchip fabrication are the result of nanoengineering. As the fields of computer science and nanoengineering have advanced, microchips have become physically smaller while containing more components than previous iterations.
A wide range of industries employ nanoengineers, which makes determining a typical nanoengineering salary challenging. However, some key data points can help give an idea of the possible salaries in this emerging field.
Electrical and electronics engineers earned a median annual wage of $101,780 in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), with those in the highest 10th percentile making upwards of $160,000.
The BLS further reports that mechanical engineers earned a median annual wage of $95,300 in 2021, with those in the highest 10th percentile making more than $136,200.
Although it doesn’t collect specific data for nanoengineers, the compensation data site Payscale offers estimated median annual salaries (as of August 2022) for different levels of engineers:
- Junior mechanical engineer — $62,100
- Mechanical engineer — $73,600
- Senior mechanical engineer — $101,700
- Electrical engineer — $78,700
- Senior electrical engineer — $108,700
- Senior principal engineer — $144,200
Payscale also reports the median annual salary for graduates with a Master of Engineering in nanotechnology was $118,000 as of April 2021, regardless of job title.
Highest Nanoengineering Salaries by City
According to Payscale, the following cities had the highest median salaries by location for mechanical engineers:
- Los Angeles (13.2% more than the national average)
- Seattle (10.9% more than the national average)
- San Diego (10% more than the national average)
The following cities had the highest median salaries by location for electrical engineers:
- San Diego (16.9% more than the national average)
- Los Angeles (10.2% more than the national average)
- Houston (7.7% more than the national average)
Nanoengineering Job Opportunities
The field of nanoengineering is only growing. A background in material science and engineering can lead to job opportunities in many different fields, including:
- Semiconductor production
- Health care and pharmaceuticals
- National security
- Energy capture or storage
- Food control and packaging
Nanotechnology is increasingly important in health care, where it can be used to detect tumors and improve drug delivery systems and medical imaging. Nanoengineering is closely related to the field of biomedical engineering, which applies engineering principles to the development of medical equipment and devices. Employment in the latter field is projected to grow by 10% between 2021 and 2031, according to the BLS. Similar to other engineering disciplines, biomedical engineers are well-compensated, with a median annual wage of $97,410 in 2021.
While demand for nanoengineers is higher in certain sectors than in others, nearly any field can benefit from a professional with a working knowledge of nanotechnology and the latest best practices for working with materials on the nanoscale.
How to Become a Nanotechnology Engineer
If you’re interested in a career in nanoengineering, the best first step is to invest in an advanced education, such as the online Master of Science in Engineering program at the University of California, Riverside.
When you choose to earn a master’s degree with a concentration in materials at the nanoscale, you’ll take courses through the university’s interdisciplinary Materials Science and Engineering program. These courses, taught by leaders in the field, cover topics such as the patterning of materials via scanning probe lithography and the mechanical, electrical, magnetic, and chemical properties of nanoparticles to prepare you to work in a wide range of nanoengineering jobs.