Dip Pen Nanolithography (DPN) began as a scanning probe lithography technique where an atomic force microscope tip was used to transfer alkane thiolates to a gold surface. This technique allows surface patterning on scales of under 100 nanometers. DPN is the nanotechnology analog of the dip pen (also called the quill pen), where the tip of an atomic force microscope cantilever acts as a "pen," which is coated with a chemical compound or mixture acting as an "ink," and put in contact with a substrate, the "paper."
DPN enables direct deposition of nanoscale materials onto a substrate in a flexible manner. Recent advances have demonstrated massively parallel patterning using two-dimensional arrays of 55,000 tips. Applications of this technology currently range through chemistry, materials science, and the life sciences, and include such work as ultra high density biological nanoarrays, and additive photomask repair.
The uncontrollable transfer of a molecular 'ink' from a coated AFM tip to a substrate was first reported by Jaschke and Butt in 1995, but they erroneously concluded that alkanethiols could not be transferred to gold substrates to form stable nanostructures. A research group at Northwestern University led by Chad Mirkin independently studied the process and determined that under the appropriate conditions, molecules could be transferred to a wide variety of surfaces to create stable chemically-adsorbed monolayers in a high resolution lithographic process they termed "DPN". Mirkin and his coworkers hold the patents on this process, and the patterning technique has expanded to include liquid "inks". It is important to note that "liquid inks" are governed by a very different deposition mechanism when compared to "molecular inks".
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