Understanding systems and processes that occur at the nanoscale requires specialized knowledge. Objects that can be measured in nanometers are far too small for the human eye to see, and even a typical microscope isn't powerful enough. For example, a human fingernail grows at the rate of about one nanometer per second. At this tiny scale, objects may have different physical properties than their larger-scale counterparts. These new properties present new opportunities for researchers, but understanding them requires specialized coursework.

The interdisciplinary program in nanotechnology is open to all students, although it is geared towards students in engineering and science fields who seek specialization in the science and technology of processes, systems, and phenomena that occur at the nanometer size scale. The significant disciplinary overlap of these topics and issues makes it important for students studying these specialized areas to gain an interdisciplinary perspective, which can be used to complement their knowledge and skills in their major field of study.