The Wider Context of Nanotechnology


Nanotechnology is the identification, application and use of novel behaviour that occurs at the nanoscale to solve real-world problems. The discipline requires a breadth of understanding that is much wider than just the equations and scientific principles that underlie that behaviour. This introductory course gives an overview of the current state of nanotechnology as well as introducing the implications of these new technologies for safety, regulation, and innovation. The course provides an overview of the societal and environmental implications of nanotechnology.

The Wider Context of Nanotechnology online course can be taken:

Nanotechnology has received much attention from scientists and journalists in the last few years raising hopes of revolutionary developments in a wide range of technologies on an increasingly small scale, dramatic improvements to standards of living, and solutions to a variety of environmental, medical and communications problems. These have gone hand-in-hand with fears that a new technology will disrupt the markets of existing business sectors and that machines are running out of control.

The result has been a high degree of confusion at all levels of society as to the ethics, safety and business implications of this emerging series of technologies. The course addresses these issues and others in emphasising the interdisciplinary nature of nanotechnology. This is important because students who specialise in nanotechnology must be trained to appreciate a range of issues beyond the confines of pure science. Nanotechnology has applications in a broad range of fields and sectors of society. A student trained in electrical engineering, for example, who goes on to specialise in nanotechnology, may undertake a research project developing nanosensors that will be implanted in human subjects. He or she will therefore need to develop new skills to appreciate the broader ethical, societal and environmental implications of such research.

The development of interdisciplinary skills involves not only learning methods of reasoning and critical thinking, but also gaining experience with the dynamics and development of effective multi-disciplinary function. Technologists must become comfortable addressing various issues as an integral part of doing advanced research in a team that might draw upon the expertise of not only engineers, but also biologists, doctors, lawyers and business people. As the project evolves knowledge of the place of nanotechnology in business becomes increasingly important. This course teaches an understanding of the basic workings of how nanotechnology innovation is exploited, together with an understanding of the dynamics of entrepreneurship.

Programme details

The Wider Context of Nanotechnology course begins in October and runs for seven weeks online. The course comprises two parts: a one-week induction period followed by six weeks of study, including a reading week. There will be live online tutorials, normally once each week.


The online Induction week enables students to confidently maximise their online learning experience. We appreciate that students starting any new course may face some challenges, perhaps if you have not studied at postgraduate level before and/or are combining this part-time study with working full-time, and The Wider Context of Nanotechnology course has been designed with these considerations in mind.

Our Induction module aims to help you to ease yourself into The Wider Context of Nanotechnology course by allowing you to familiarise yourself with the online environment and to introduce yourself to the other participants. The Induction also contains practical resources to provide guidance while you prepare for the units that follow and throughout your time on the course. These materials will be available for the duration of your study, so that you can dip into them on a ‘need to know’ basis.

Ethical, social and business considerations for nanotechnology

The second part of the course looks at the ethical, societal and business considerations that are necessary to understand nanotechnology. In particular, the module focuses on the following themes:

  • Ethics and nanotechnology;
  • Society and nanotechnology;
  • The health and environmental impact of nanotechnology;
  • Business and nanotechnology.

The course emphasises and addresses the interdisciplinary nature of nanotechnology. Students completing the course will gain a good in-depth understanding of the numerous issues facing nanotechnology today.

Most students should expect to spend an average of between 10 and 15 hours per week on independent study in addition to the timetabled tutorials.


  • The course is taken part-time so students can complete it whilst continuing to work full-time;
  • The course is taught online and can be taken from anywhere in the world;
  • An induction week helps to ease students into the course and familiarise themselves with the online course environment, also enabling them to introduce themselves to other participants;
  • Tutors provide online support and replicate electronically the famed Oxford tutorial system;
  • The course has a dedicated tutor, course director and administration team accustomed to supporting students undertaking distance learning courses;
  • Students have access to staff at the University of Oxford’s Begbroke Science Park, particularly the Course Director, Dr Christiane Norenberg;
  • Throughout the course, students can use the University of Oxford’s unrivalled electronic library resources to enable them to complete the assignment tasks.


Short course participants who do not wish to undertake the assessed work required for academic credit, but who do satisfy the course participation requirements, will receive a certificate of completion.

Those successfully completing the course with academic credit can apply to receive a CATS point transcript.


Description Costs
22-23 & earlier enrolled - MSc in Nanotechnology for M&HC £2475.00
Standalone fee for 2024-2025 (online module) £3685.00
Students enrolled on MSc in Nanotechnology for M&HC £2570.00


Details of funding opportunities, including grants, bursaries, loans, scholarships and benefit information are available on our financial assistance page.


The course fee includes:

  • Tuition;
  • Full online course materials through our bespoke virtual learning environment (VLE);
  • Access to the Bodleian Libraries e-Resources.

The stand alone course fee will be released shortly.

Before making your application for this short course, please ensure that you have read the terms and conditions which can be found to the right of this page.

Please see the Postgraduate Certificate in Nanotechnology page for more information regarding fees when taking this course as a part of the PGCert Programme.


Prof Robert Carlisle


Robert Carlisle is an Associate Professor in Biomedical Engineering and head of the Drug and Vaccine Delivery group within IBME. After completing a BSc in Biochemistry, an MSc in Toxicology and a PhD in Gene Delivery at Birmingham University, he worked for 8 years within the Department of Clinical Pharmacology and the Department of Oncology at the University of Oxford.

The majority of his work has been concerned with achieving systemic delivery of anti-cancer agents for the treatment of metastatic cancer. This has included the development and testing of novel nano-scale non-viral and viral gene delivery systems and liposomal agents for the delivery of conventional chemotherapeutics. Research within his labs covers the full scope of therapeutic design, formulation and testing with emphasis on how the specificity and efficacy of therapy can be improved.

Dr Christiane Norenberg

Director & Tutor

Christiane is the Nanotechnology Programme Manager at the University of Oxford's Begbroke Science Park. She received her DPhil in Materials Science from the University of Oxford in 1998 and continued with postdoctoral research. In 2001, Christiane was awarded the Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship for her work on the growth and characterisation of nanostructures on semiconductor surfaces. After a period as a lecturer at the Multidisciplinary Nanotechnology Centre at Swansea University, Christiane returned to Oxford in 2007 to take up her present post.

Her interests and expertise are in the areas of surface science, growth and characterisation of nanostructures on surfaces, and nanotechnology in general. Christiane also teaches nanoscience and materials science at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Dr Barry Park


‎Director, GBP Consulting Ltd

Dr Barry Park has his own consulting business, GBP Consulting Ltd and has conducted projects for academic and commercial clients in the field of materials technology and specifically nanotechnology. He has been a Member of Advisory Panels for University of Oxford‘s Nanotechnology Programme, Safenano, and HSL Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Nanomaterials and several FP7 projects. He is also Theme Manager for Chemical and Consumer Products for the Nanotechnology KTN and has responsibility for four Focus Groups, including one on Responsible Nanotechnology.

Prior to this, Barry was with Oxonica where he was Chief Operating Officer and had responsibility for research and development, intellectual property and regulatory affairs.

Course aims

The overall purpose of the course is to:

  • Acquire a basic understanding of the current state of the development of nanotechnologies;
  • Explain the safety issues concerning naturally occurring nanoparticles and those arising from the development of new products relying on nanotechnologies;
  • Explain the interrelation of nanotechnologies and the environment – by providing a reference framework for risk assessment of nanotechnologies in the context of current and possible future disassociated technologies used for end life processing of materials in which nanotechnologies are incorporated;
  • Provide an overview of the interrelation of nanotechnologies and health;
  • Acquire an understanding of innovation in the nanotechnology sector;
  • Acquire an understanding of the regulation that applies to nanotechnology products and companies;
  • Acquire a basic understanding in the societal implications of nanotechnologies.

Assessment methods

Assessment will be based on submission of two set written assignments, including a short essay and a written report, totalling not more than 2,500 words in length. The assignments are submitted online.

Academic credit

Those wishing to may apply to take the course with accreditation. The University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education offers Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) points for the course.

Students wishing to complete The Wider Context of Nanotechnology course with academic credit will satisfactorily complete the coursework assessments. Attendance of a minimum of 70% of the live online tutorials is required. Students also need to actively participate in the online conversations via the course forums to the satisfaction of the course director. Students fulfilling these requirements are eligible to earn credit equivalent to 10 CATS points which may be counted towards a postgraduate qualification.


Application deadline: three weeks before the commencement of the course.

This course requires you to complete the online application form which can be found by pressing the 'Apply' button on the top right of this screen,  including a brief statement of purpose explaining your motivation for attending this course (500 words maximum), to be submitted alongside a copy of your CV.

If you are applying to take this course for academic credit you will also need to complete section two of the reference form and forward it to your referee for completion. Please note that if you are not applying to take the course for academic credit then you do not need to submit a reference.

Selection criteria

To apply for this short course you should:

  • be able to demonstrate an interest in nanotechnology; and
  • be able to demonstrate a suitable level of English (if this is not your first language).


IT requirements

This course uses the Department’s online assignment submission system and online courseware. In order to participate in the course, and to prepare and submit your course assignments you will need access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification. Students of this course may use the student computing facilities provided in Departmental buildings.