WATERLOO REGION — James Mracek is an explorer.
More than 10,000 university and college students are graduating these days in Waterloo Region.
But Mracek is in a special group of 63 young men and women — the first batch of engineering students with a concentration in nanotechnology.
“We’re very much explorers in this new land,” said Mracek.
“There’s a lot of opportunity there. I don’t think anybody really knows what the boundaries of applicability are yet. That’s what makes it so exciting.”
Nanotechnology is the science of the very small, which is poised to revolutionize technology. It is widely expected to generate two million jobs worldwide by 2015.
One of Mracek’s classmates is working to see if chemotherapy can be controlled through nanotechnology with such pinpoint accuracy that it attacks only the cancerous cells instead of damaging the healthy cells as well.
For his final project, Mracek worked with nanoparticles, each one-ten-thousandth the width of a human hair, to build an “electronic nose” that detects the proportions of different gases.
Like any student with a big end-of-term project, it was a gruelling affair, with all-night work sessions that ended at 6 or 7 a.m.
“It’s been difficult,” admitted 23-year-old Mracek, who is from Timmins.
Small wonder that of 113 students who began the program, only 63 are graduating.
But Mracek, whose next step is to get a PhD in theoretical physics at University of Toronto, said it was a “fantastic” experience to study at Waterloo.
The co-op program there, which alternates workplace experience with terms of academic study, allowed him to discover his love of teaching. He had work experience doing research, teaching and working in a mine doing water sampling.
And so, even though it’s a competitive field, Mracek knows he wants to teach physics in a university and do research into the underlying theories of how the tiniest building blocks of matter behave.
This week, University of Waterloo is graduating 3,641 undergraduates and 710 graduate students.
Wilfrid Laurier University is also graduating 2,533 students over a two-week period that ends next Wednesday.
And Conestoga College graduates 3,900 students this week.