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Rackham Certificate Program in Nanobiology

Our Rackham Graduate School Certificate in Nanoscience & Technology with NanoBiology emphasis is the first of three planned nanotechnology areas under the umbrella of the Nanoscience & Technology Certificate program that forms a framework by which students can be accredited in one of several areas of emphasis.  Each individual concentration has its own academic oversight and requirements to be satisfied before a student can obtain a Certificate.

Our goal is not to create a new Ph.D. program, but rather to provide a cross-cutting certificate program that will prepare students from biological disciplines to undertake modern nanotechnology research and that will prepare students from physical science disciplines to undertake modern biological research. We wish to integrate students from a number of existing graduate programs within this interdisciplinary research structure and thereby to provide a coherent strategy for educating students more broadly in nanobiology while still maintaining intellectual depth in a core discipline.

Jump to: How to join the Certificate Program in NanoBiology

Certificate Program in detail

Nanoscale analytical, computational, and synthetic approaches offer the possibility of understanding and manipulating complex biological systems. With the tools now available, it is possible to dissect the structure and function of cells and to begin thinking about the “reverse engineering” problem of reassembling functional biological machines that will permit exciting advances in the life sciences and medicine. In order to realize this potential, it is essential that we train a new generation of scientists and engineers who have a broad understanding both of nanomaterials and biological systems.

The tools, techniques, and ideas needed to investigate current problems cut across the traditionally defined academic disciplines. Researchers from diverse areas are needed to understand the issues and develop solutions. To prepare for the nanotechnology workforce, students must be educated broadly in multiple disciplines at the root of nanotechnology.

                        Michigan Nanotechnology Institute

                                  Scientific Organization

NanoBiology represents a truly distinct area of scientific investigation situated at the intersection of materials, analytic, and biologic sciences. Our cross-cutting Certificate program prepares students from biological disciplines to undertake modern nanotechnology research and prepares students from physical science disciplines to undertake modern biological research. To accomplish this, our program leverages the strengths of Michigan faculty in synthesizing, characterizing and utilizing nano-biological systems.

A number of graduate programs and departments will supply students who desire the Certificate including: Applied Physics, Biophysics, Chemical Biology, Bioinformatics, Material Science and Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Physics and the Program in Biomedical Sciences. Each Ph.D. program or department has its own academic requirements for their graduate students. The Certificate provides a more interdisciplinary experience without sacrificing the needed intellectual depth in the student’s core areas. However, the interdisciplinary nature of the education should start from the first day.  We have therefore structured the program in a way that allows students to largely satisfy the requirements of the Certificate by utilizing select existing courses as cognates.

Key Features of the Certificate Program

•    Complete a nanoscience class within Ph.D. area (3 credits).

•    Complete two complementary nanoscience classes outside of specific Ph.D. area

     (6 credits).

•    Perform collaborative research in a second laboratory or with a second

      research group.

•   Participate in student-organized seminar series (2 credits per semester, 3 semesters).

Required Nanoscience courses within and outside of Ph.D. area

A graduate student enters the Nanoscience Certificate program through an existing graduate program. The student’s home program defines the required core area courses of that student.

Emilee Byrne, 4rth year undergraduate Neuroscience and Spanish student.

Students complete two complementary nanoscience classes outside of specific Ph.D. area.

The NanoBiology emphasis will use two free electives and cognate requirements to open opportunities for the student to study more broadly. Students in the NanoBiology emphasis will be expected to take additional courses that complement his or her Ph.D. curriculum. This coursework will expose the student to ideas and techniques that are important to the pursuit of NanoBiology research, but will be outside of his or her discipline. These activities will serve to generate a truly unique and transformative graduate education experience.

Sample Nanoscience courses within and outside of a student’s Ph.D. area include:


I Biology

Civil Engineering                  582          Environmental Microbiology

Chemistry                          501/502    Chemical Biology

Biomedical Engineering         418          Quantitative Cell Biology

Civil Engineering                  693          Environmental Molecular Biology

Biology                              427          Molecular Biology

Biology                              428          Cell Biology

BiolChem                           415/515    Intro Biochemistry


II Physical Science

Chemical Engineering           538          Statistical and Irreversible Thermodynamics

Applied Physics/EECS           513/540    Applied Quantum Mechanics

Physics                             406          Statistical and Thermal Physics

Physics                             511          Quantum Physics

Physics                             520          Condensed Matter Physics

Materials Science                500          Materials Physics and Chemistry

Chemistry                          535          Physical Chemistry of Macromolecules

Chemistry/Mat. Sci.             511/510    Materials Chemistry

Biophysics                         520         Energetics, Interactions, Dynamics


Biophysics                         521          Physical Methods for the Study of


Chemistry                          454          Biophysical Chemistry II

Mechanical Engineering        631          Statistical Thermodynamics

Chemical Eng/Mat. Sci.        557          Computational Nanoscience of Soft Materials


III Engineering

Pharmaceutical Chemistry     758          Methods of Computational Chemistry

Biophysics                         608          Biophysical Principles of Microscopy

Material Science                 512          Polymer Physics

Civil Engineering                  583          Surfaces and Interfaces in Aquatic Systems

Civil Engineering                  594          Environmental Soil Chemistry

Civil Engineering                  692          Biological and Chemical Degradation

                                                      of Pollutants

Chemical Engineering           557          Computational Nanoscience of Soft Matter

Biomedical Engineering         556          Cellular and Molecular Biomechanics

Nuclear Engineering/MSE      590/662    Advanced Electron Microscopy Laboratory

Electrical Engineering           598          Photonic Crystals

Material Science                 693          Nanostructured Materials for Energy

                                                      Conversion and Storage

Chemistry/Macro                 436/536    Laboratory in Macromolecular Chemistry

Mechanical Engineering        539          Heat Transfer Physics

Biomedical Engineering         561          Biological Micro-and Nanotechnology

Biomedical Engineering         599          Biomembranes, Transport and Signaling


Students’ course selections will be varied due to their vastly differing backgrounds.

Required Collaboration

To underpin the interdisciplinary nature of the Certificate, students are required to collaborate with at least one research group other than that of the student’s advisor during the thesis research. To develop competency in NanoBiology, the student needs to have extensive interactions with researchers outside of his or her advisor’s research group. For example, a computational student might collaborate with the experimentalists acquiring data on a physical system, or an experimentalist could perform research in several different laboratories. For a significant percentage of Ph.D. students working in NanoBiology within MNIMBS, such a level of collaboration has already been the norm.


The Certificate program Director, in consultation with the steering committee, assesses whether a student has had sufficient interaction to fulfill this requirement. A student will demonstrate evidence of interaction by production of joint papers, joint data included in the thesis, and participation in the group meetings. For some students, the collaborative research will be undertaken within the MNIMBS. Although research in the Institute is not a requirement of the Certificate,

MNIMBS is a natural location for faculty from different departments to form collaborations on NanoBiology research. Over the past several years, six faculty members in the physical sciences,

Emilee Byrne, 4rth year Neuroscience and Spanish student, Daniel Mcnerny, PhD Candidate Chemical Engineering and Douglas Mullen, PhD Candidate Macromolecular Science and Engineering. She has been with the Banaszak-Holl group for two years, working with Doug Mullen on the synthesis and characterization of functionalized PAMAM dendrimers as targeted drug delivery agents.

In MNIMBS, Collaboration with at least one research group other than that of the student’s advisor is required.

engineering and the biomedical sciences have utilized the extensive biological and medical research capabilities of this Institute to further their research. Many graduate students from LSA, the Medical School and the COE have worked in the Institute, which is co-located on the Medical School campus and the Chemistry building, and have reported that quite productive interactions have taken place.

Required Seminar

To ensure intellectual cohesion and exchange of knowledge between students within the training program, participation in a student-organized research seminar is required. All student participants will give research presentations and feedback on presentations that they view. These required courses and the collaborative research experience will serve to complement and broaden a student’s Ph.D. education and satisfies the Rackham Certificate requirement of 15 credits.

In summary, the Rackham Nanoscience Certificate with NanoBiology emphasis is awarded in recognition of a student’s greater range of experience and competence. The overarching theme of the certificate, and the concentrations, is the interdisciplinary nature of the research. The objective of this certificate program is to allow students to develop high-level competency in a broader range of subjects than is the norm for their Ph.D. discipline. In recognition of a student’s greater range of experience and competence, the Rackham Nanoscience certificate with emphasis on nanobiology would be awarded.  

Students interested in the the Certificate program in Nanobiology should contact the Certificate Program Director, Professor Bradford Orr: for further details.

A student wishing to obtain a Rackham certificate in Nanoscience and Technology would need to declare an area of emphasis and satisfy the requirements for that area. Each individual concentration has its own academic oversight and requirements to be satisfied before a student would obtain a Certificate.  Currently, within the University, there are three clearly identifiable areas that a student can concentrate in: nanobiology, nanomaterials, or nanoelectronics.  MNIMBS offers the opportunity to do a certificate in nanobiology, focussed on nanomedicine applications.  Discuss the requirements with Professor Bradford Orr:

Put into your email subject line: NanoBiology certificate program

Find Rackham instructions for Dual Degree/Program Application (includes addition of degree or certificate program) here.


Certificate Seminar Instructor

Brad Orr, Ph.D.

Professor of Physics

Chair, Department  of Physics

The University of Michigan

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Find further details on the current Nanobiology Certificate Seminar here

Down load the Flyer on the Certificate in Nanobiology proram and the seminar.

An illustration of how the interdisciplinary graduate training program can work.

This involves Dr. Almut Mecke, a former physics student who originally intended to do "string theory." After several years of course work and preliminary research, Almut decided that she wanted to work in a group environment rather than alone and, wanting to have an impact on the quality of human life, she chose to work with the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute nanomedicine graduate program. We were starting our program on targeted cancer therapeutics, and Almut originally joined, thinking that she would perform molecular dynamics simulations of nanoparticle-membrane interaction.

In the end, her Ph.D. thesis (2004) contained not only these simulations, but also a wealth of experimental atomic force microscopy data on aqueous particle-lipid layer interactions. She produced a statistical mechanical model that points to the physical mechanism by which these nanoparticles interact with lipid layers, and her studies opened up an entire new area of research for us in nanoparticle toxicity. Her thesis committee was composed of Professors from Applied Physics (Bradford Orr, Ph.D., her advisor), Chemistry, Biophysics, Chemical Engineering, and the Medical School. After graduation, her research was selected as the best graduate thesis in the Physics department for 2005.

Ms. Mecke not only exemplifies the kind of interdisciplinary nanomedicine research that we do at MNIMBS; she also illustrates the need for a new interdisciplinary graduate training program. Although Almut was ultimately successful in her research, there were numerous hurdles to overcome before this could be approved by the relevant units. Our now established certificate program in nanobiology provides a smoother path for students who choose to explore this sort of interdisciplinary training. New courses will assist in getting students up to speed in the range of skills needed to make their measurements and interpret their results.

Our Institute needs institutional as well as sponsor and donor partners to develop a truly integrated interdisciplinary approach for graduate students in the physical sciences to learn and contribute to the revolution that is occurring in the biological and medical fields.




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