Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Alan M. Lyons

Subject Categories

Polymer Chemistry


3D carbon microstructure; Enzymatic lithography; Polymer Pen Printing


Polymer Pen Lithography (PPL) is a promising molecular printing approach which combines the advantages of both microcontact printing (low cost, high-throughput) and the dip pen lithography (DPN) (arbitrary writing, high-resolution) into one cohesive lithography method to create 2 dimensional (2-D) patterns with micro/nano-features on different substrates. The goal of this dissertation is to design and develop a new tool based upon PPL, which is not limited to forming 2D parallel patterns, but can also create 3D complex microstructures, finding applications in both biotechnology and Micro-Electro-Mechanical systems (MEMS) technology. This novel approach is named Polymer Pen Printing. Different from PPL using traditional dry-ink printing methods, an inking step is added to each printing repetition in the polymer pen printing process. Thus a wide range of ink materials with diverse viscosities can be transferred to substrates to create functional 2D and 3D microstructures.

The polymer pen printing apparatus used in this thesis has been accomplished and introduced in Chapter 2. As a preliminary attempt, the single polymer pen printing approach was developed by simply attaching a solid polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) pen tip to a multi-axis robot for small microarray fabrication. Compared to the single pen printing method, multi-pen printing can create large arrays of features. Therefore, an improved apparatus for polymer pen printing with high-throughput was discussed and built. Silicon molds, which consist of hundreds of uniform pyramidal openings, were photolithographically defined and etched using hydrofluoric acid (HF) followed by potassium hydroxide solution; after surface-modification with fluorosilane, these silicon molds were used to cast arrays of PDMS pyramidal pen tip. The cast PDMS pen array was mounted to a hollow holder with a 45° mirror inside. Therefore, each PDMS pen can be observed and monitored from the microscope on the side. To achieve prints less than 1 micron across, a Z axis stage with nanometer resolution was incorporated; and to control the compression of PDMS pen tips, a force gauge was also incorporated to detect 1 mg of applied force from the tips. The printing process for the multi-pen system is almost the same as single pen system. PDMS pens are coated with ink solution before each printing cycle by dipping into an inkwell and then brought into contact with the substrate surface. Thus multiple patterns, one from each tip, are created in parallel simultaneously. Furthermore, with control of the printing force, feature sizes could be controlled over the range submicron to tens of microns.

Three ink candidates have been printed by polymer pen printing approach to fabricate 2D&3D microstructures. The first ink material is Barium Strontium Titanate (BST) nanocrystallites dispersed in a furfuryl alcohol (FA), which was printed by the single PDMS pen with 100 μm tip diameter (Chapter 3). After printing, samples were heated to crosslink FA monomers, forming a stable polymeric matrix with embedded BST nanocrystallites. Without shear-thinning properties, BST/FA ink cannot be used to build 3D posts, but it has the capability to create circular patterns with different thickness by the single or multi-tier deposition method. It was found that the thickness of film increased linearly with the number of deposits without changing the diameter significantly. This encouraging result could enable the formation of microcapacitors with multi-tiered structure. Moreover, the study of printing parameters, including printing height and ink pick-up position, shows that changes to the pen positions in the ink reservoir or substrate have essentially no impact on deposit thickness or diameter. Beyond that, the effect of surface chemistry of PDMS pen and silicon wafer have also been studied. The plasma treated hydrophilic PDMS pen can pen transfer more BST/FA than untreated one; and the larger diameters with smaller thickness were obtained on a hydrophilic silicon wafer.

The second ink candidate is a dilute aqueous solution of enzyme Candia antartica lipase B (CALB), which is known to catalyze the decomposition of poly (ε-caprolactone) (PCL) films. By bringing enzymes into contact with pre-defined regions of a surface, a polymer film can be selectively degraded to form patterned features that are requited for applications in biotechnology and electronics. This so-called "enzymatic lithography" is an environmentally friendly process as it does not require any actinic radiation or synthetic chemicals to develop required features. But the need to restrict the mobility of the enzyme in order to maintain control of feature sizes poses a significant challenge. In Chapter 4, after writing 2D enzyme patterns onto a spin-cast PCL film by single pen printing, samples with CALB were incubated at 37 ℃ and 95% relative humidity (RH) for up to 7 days to develop features. The CALB selectively degraded the PCL film during incubation, forming openings through the film. The size of these features (10 to 50 μm diameter) is well suited for use as biocompatible micro-reactors.

Previous study of patterning CALB by single polymer pen printing technique resulted in slow etch rates, low throughput and poor image quality. In Chapter 5, I present an improved enzymatic lithography approach, still based on enzyme CALB and PCL system, which can resolve fine-scale features (< 1 μm across) in thick (0.1 - 2.0 μm) polymer films after 5 minutes to 2 hours of incubation at 37 ℃ and 87% RH. Immobilization of the enzyme on the polymer surface was monitored using fluorescence microscopy by labeling CALB with FITC. The crystallite size in the PCL films was systematically varied; small crystallites resulted in significantly faster etch rates (20 nm/min) and the ability to resolve smaller features (as fine as 1 μm). The effect of printing conditions and RH during incubation is also presented. Patterns formed in the PCL film were transferred to an underlying copper foil demonstrating a "Green" approach to the fabrication of printed circuit boards.

In parallel, the third ink material is a mixture of 25 wt% graphite dispersed in a high viscosity phenolic resin n-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) solution, which can be converted into carbon/carbon composites after a pyrolysis process. The 3D polymeric posts were created by depositing multilayers of thixotropic phenolic ink on a silicon substrate by single polymer pen printing method with a 10 μm radius PDMS pen tip (Chapter 6). After pyrolysis at 1000 ℃ in a nitrogen (N2) atmosphere, the polymeric features were converted to the glassy carbon/graphite features with a high aspect ratio (>2). These features may be used as microelectrodes.

Last, arrays of needle-shaped glassy carbon have been developed by a drawing approach using multi-pen printing technique followed by simple pyrolysis process (Chapter 7). To build polymeric needles with ultra-high aspect ratio, the polymeric ink was prepared by dissolving phenolic resin in the high boiling point (204 ℃) solvent NMP without fillers to achieve good printability and suitable viscosity. By slowly lifting up the print head from substrate, liquid needle structures were formed and then solidified on silicon substrates or gold electrodes due to the solvent evaporation. In addition, suspended resin fibers connected to two electrodes have also been fabricated by precisely controlling the movement of the PDMS pen. After pyrolysis, these resin features were converted to glassy carbon and the 3D structures remained. The electrical characterization results showed that glassy carbon made by this method had relatively low resistivity (2.5 x 10-5 Ωm). Therefore the glassy carbon based microneedles are well-suited to be electrodes for electrochemical sensors for biological applications.