nano technology? so such thing does exist...
you'd probably be playing with a lot of particles if its for science, which means you'll be wanting to learn particles, and scripting in MEL (not sure what python can do yet)
you'll probably need to find out how to do animation by 3d-hierarchy-structure, blend-shaping, and everyone's favourite... skeletal animation
i suggest looking for tutorials to learn about it. even if you had an existing scene of a completed animation to pick apart, you'll not learn anything unless you know what you're looking for.
unlike flash, there's more than being able to see the library and see what already exists and being able to see the code that affects the animations.
you'd be able to click an animated object and see the keyframes on the timeline, but you probably wont see what was keyed. normally you just key things that appear in the channel box, but everything can be keyed, even if they aren't in the channel box.
also, if you have a scene that was done "properly" you'll be wondering what all these control objects are for :p
i suggest taking a look for tutorials. there are some on simply maya and more on the web
unfortunately for us i dont have a website to show off my stuff...
that's a "Ch" pronounced as a "K"
Computer skills I should have:
Maya, XSI, Photoshop, AfterEffects, Motion, Illustrator, Flash, Swift3D