New way of printing nanostructures makes desktop fabrication disposable

Manufacturing nanostructures has always been a pain because it's hard to scale up. Researchers have discovered a cheap, disposable way of producing nanostructures on the fly, which could be useful in the fields of genomics and electronics.

Researchers have figured out how to make designer nanostructures using arrays of silicon pens to create tiny patterns in biological and electronic materials. This is good news for researchers at least, as the method could make it cheaper to produce computer chips and gene chips for testing purposes, reports Technology Review.

Northwestern University researchers say this new way of fabricating nanostructures will enable researchers to print nanostructures from their desktops.

Here, the Northwestern researchers demonstrated the scalability of their method by printing 19,000 pyramids on a dollar bill. It took 200 minutes to print the pattern. This is a proof of concept: The method can print thousands of copies with features that are smaller than 50 nanometers.

Chad A. Mirkin of Northwestern University said in a statement:

Hard-tip, soft-spring lithography is to scanning-probe lithography what the disposable razor is to the razor industry. This is a major step forward in the realization of desktop fabrication that will allow researchers in academia and industry to create and study nanostructure prototypes on the fly.

The technique is called hard-tip, soft-spring lithography (HSL). The technique basically uses hard pen tips that float on soft polymer springs. It's different than the commonly used method called dip-pen lithography because HSL uses a hard tip instead of a soft pen tip.

The hard tip helps researchers make patterns with greater resolution. The print heads can be thrown away, giving this nanoprinting a disposable dimension to it.

Joseph M. DeSimone, a chemist at the University of North Carolina, said in a statement:

This advance will be extremely useful in the life sciences for transitioning conventional microarrays to nanoarray formats, including for gene and proteomic chips.

Not to mention, many of the alternatives have been too expensive to be of any real use as a production and prototyping tool. That's why scanning probe lithography methods typically have been limiting and have not seen the light of day outside of the lab.

However, this new technique is well positioned to make lithography more assessible to the biotechnology and semiconductor industries.

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