NanoInk writes its own ticket
using quills on the nanoscale

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Aug. 19, 2002 — NanoInk Inc., a mere seven months old, has released its first product: a software-and-supplies package that turns any atomic force microscope into a Dip-Pen Nanolithography (DPN) machine.

DPN-System-1 retails for $30,000 to $40,000 and is targeted to research labs. Now comes the hard part — making a bunch of AFM pen tips work in an array large enough for manufacturing. The company promises an array product by early 2003.

DPN, invented by Chad Mirkin’s research group at Northwestern University’s Institute for Nanotechnology, is like a tiny quill pen that can build nanoscale structures. The AFM tip is dipped in a substance and then writes on a substrate in whatever pattern the writer desires. Resolution is less than 10 nanometers.

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NanoInk Chief Executive Chris Anzalone — also vice president of Galway Partners LLC, one of NanoInk’s founding investors — said he’s looking for industrial partners to help develop DPN’s potential applications. He lists several advantages: high resolution, low cost, ease of use and flexibility of materials.

Biotechnology applications will come first, Anzalone predicted. In June, Mirkin’s research group published a paper in the journal Science detailing the use of DPN for drawing nanoscale DNA arrays. “We can prepare a million spots in the area occupied by one spot in a conventional array,” Mirkin said.

NanoInk was born when Anzalone met Mirkin at a Gordon Research Conference, where unpublished research results are presented “off the record.”

“I wasn’t looking for deals, but Chad Mirkin was making a presentation and I could hardly stay in my seat,” Anzalone said. “This was paradigm-shifting technology. I thought, ‘Too bad it’s only a research tool,’ because he was showing a single pen. As we got to talking, it turned out he was working (with collaborators) on developing an array.”

While Anzalone envisions arrays of thousands, or even millions, of independently controlled pens, creating them is likely to be a tremendous challenge. IBM has demonstrated the largest working array so far: its prototype Millipede data storage chip, which has 1,024 tips. A group in Japan has fabricated an array with millions of tips, but hasn’t yet tried to make them do anything.

“It is not difficult to make large arrays of passive devices,” said Juergen Brugger of the microsystems laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, who worked on Millipede. “The challenge remains to activate them with sensors and actuators and to provide access to each node.”

Mirkin said his team has published a paper on an eight-pen array, is testing 32 pens and has a 1,000-pen array on the drawing board.

Anzalone said he is confident that the company’s first multipen system will be released by the end of the year. He also said NanoInk has opened a branch office in Campbell, Calif., that houses its MEMS team for pen R&D and production and the company will receive $1 million from the city of Chicago to build NanoInk’s permanent space.

Assuming NanoInk can create an industrial-scale device, Anzalone envisions a business model that combines product sales and royalty payments in such a way that “we make no money if we can’t help (customers) get a product out the door.”

He admits the idea is novel. “It might be that we’re just slow and everyone has already figured out that this won’t work. Or it might be that we’re unique and our situation is different. If we work this right, it’s a real tribute to leverage.”

Anzalone said there are two possible exit strategies for the company — either to go public, or to be acquired “many times over” as it sells exclusive DPN licenses to companies in various industries. “It’s not likely that any single company would buy us out lock, stock and barrel because the potential applications are so broad.”


Company file: NanoInk Inc.
(last updated Aug. 19, 2002)

NanoInk Inc.

1436 Randolph St., Suite 402
Chicago, Ill., 60607

NanoInk was founded in January 2002, based on research by Chad Mirkin’s group at Northwestern University’s Institute for Nanotechnology.

Automated fabrication hardware and software

Small tech-related products and services
NanoInk works in what it calls Dip-Pen Nanolithography (DPN), a fabrication process that uses the cantilever tip of an atomic force microscope (AFM) to write nanoscale patterns on substrates using various materials as “ink.” NanoInk develops and markets software solutions and tools used to control the DPN microscopes. The company hopes to soon begin marketing its DPN Writer full industrial system.


  • Chad Mirkin: Founder, and also Northwestern University professor, director of the school’s Institute for Nanotechnology and co-founder of Nanosphere Inc.
  • Chris Anzalone: chief executive officer
  • Ray Eby: director of product development
  • Joe Fragala: director of microfabrication/MEMS
  • Employees
    12 (the company plans to expand to 40 by the end of 2002)

    Investment history
    In April 2002, Galway Partners LLC and Lurie Investment Fund LLC made an initial investment totaling $3.5 million.

    Selected strategic partners and customers
    NanoInk is actively seeking partnerships with academic and national government-sponsored research bodies, as well as with industry leaders.

    Barriers to market
    It will be difficult to develop controllable, large-scale AFM arrays for use by industrial customers.

    NanoInk competes with companies developing electron beam lithography, X-ray lithography or other high-resolution fabrication techniques. Competitors include:

  • JMAR Technologies Inc.
  • BioForce Nanosciences Inc.

    To produce large-scale arrays for DPN and \find partners to develop DPN applications for various industries

    Why they’re in small tech
    “It’s uncommon that one is involved in a company that can change even one industry, and this one has the potential to change many,” says CEO Chris Anzalone

    What keeps them up at night
    “We have the world at our doorstep: vast industries that are potential users of DPN. How do you tap those industries and which companies do you tap? It’s hard to stay focused.”

    Selected patent
    Molecular level, precision control

    Phone: 312-432-9100
    Fax: 312-432-9045
    E-mail: [email protected]

    Recent news
    Chicago tax subsidies support nanotechnology startups
    NanoInk launches nanosize pen

    — Research by Gretchen McNeely


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