Rewriting Life

55,000 Tiny Pens

Nanoscale protein printouts could speed drug delivery.

Researchers have developed a device that uses 55,000 microscopic “pens” to write patterns with nanoscale features–and could even use biological molecules such as DNA or proteins as “ink.” The tool could someday lead to powerful new diagnostic tests and cancer therapies. Created by Northwestern University chemist Chad ­Mirkin, the device is a leap forward from earlier versions that had just one pen (see “Nanobiotech Makes the Diagnosis,” May 2002). The greater numbers translate to added speed, which could allow researchers to run thousands of experiments at once. For example, they could print nearly infinite combinations of proteins and test their effects on cells, a process that could lead to new drugs. The new nano machine is fast: as a demonstration, ­Mirkin printed 55,000 images of a nickel in an area smaller than a dime–and did it in less than half an hour.

Each pyramid-shaped pen tip is about 20 nanometers wide. (Credit: Chad A. Mirkin, Northwestern University/Nanoink, Inc)

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

You've read of free articles this month.