Nano Science and Technology Institute

BioForce Nanosciences’ NanoArrayer Poised to Open New Era in Nano-, Micro-Array Research and Commercialization

An emerging company from the nation’s heartland is shipping a nano- and micro-patterning instrument that could literally turbocharge the speed of moving nano-based devices from lab to marketplace, while cutting costs and improving customization.

BioForce Nanosciences (ticker symbol: BFNH), based in Ames Iowa, is shipping the NanoArrayer System, a device designed to aid surface patterning and functionalization projects that require precise and reproducible material deposition on the femtoliter scale. The NanoArrayer bursts through limitations of AFM [Atomic Force Microscope] lithography to bring together the many capabilities crucial for rapid and high-volume research and production – including design, prototyping, assembly, testing and reliable replication.

Nano World News spoke with BioForce’s NanoArrayer System Product Manager Michael Lynch to learn more about the NanoArrayer – how it works, where it helps, and how it will speed commercialization of nano array-based technologies.

How the BioForce NanoArrayer Works

At its core, BioForce’s NanoArrayer marries control instrumentation technologies with microfluidic printing methodologies for dispensing unprecedented volumes of liquids (both biological and non-organic).

The result: a one-stop, simple to operate device that provides nano-researchers with controllable, exacting and reproducible arrays on virtually any surface.

“We can provide high accuracy over large distances and that is the key to our ability to provide batch-level fabrication,” Lynch said. “Using AFM-based patterning methods, you would be hard pressed to pattern more than one chip at a time, and with our device you can literally do a hundred in the same batch,” he added.

The NanoArrayer places molecules at defined locations on a surface with nanometer spatial resolution. Importantly, the device can also print proteins and other biological and non-biological materials onto silicon chips and other surfaces with ultra-micro spot sizes ranging from 20 microns to 1 micron.

This capability means that using the NanoArrayer, Lynch said, ultra-microarrays or nano-arrays of up to 10-50 domains or more can be readily produced and subsequently used as ultra-miniature test sites for biomolecular interactions. This is a key advantage when analyzing scarce protein samples.

Where the NanoArrayer Helps

While the NanoArrayer was originally designed with bio-nano applications in mind, the device’s ability to quickly and precisely assemble micro-arrays can also be applied to quantum dots, nanotubes and nanowires. “We are creating very small features with extremely high accuracy,” Lynch said.

BioForce started out in the AFM world offering a line of probes and accessories, but their interest in bio-nano quickly moved them to explore new techniques, Lynch told NWN.

“We really wanted to offer devices that could better speed the development of new bio-nano applications from research to practical utility,” Lynch told NWN. “At the time, microarrays were just taking a foothold on the biology side,” he noted. So BioForce engineers asked themselves a simple question: ‘What if we could shrink arrays down to a level where we could manipulate many different biomolecules in a nanoscale field?’

But BioForce engineers quickly ran into a problem. “There was no good tool or method for creating smaller biomolecular arrays,” Lynch said. While BioForce engineers experimented with AFM, “we found that using AFM tips for deposition was a diffusion-limited technique, it was too slow and the results were not reproducible,” he added. To overcome AFM limitations, BioForce engineers went searching for new techniques, and soon developed a new set of microfluidics-based Surface Patterning Tools (SPTs).

These SPTs became an early-stage building-block technology for the NanoArrayer, Lynch said. “These SPTs are planar, microfabricated cantilever devices with an integrated microfluidic channel and reservoir system that lets us physically deliver attoliters to femtoliters of liquid to the surface,” Lynch said. “The liquid flows down the channel, where at the end is a tiny gap. The gap is where you touch the end of the cantilever to the surface, and that action instantaneously transfers a small drop of liquid to the surface.”

Once BioForce had a controllable and reproducible way to assemble micro-arrays, the team added traditional AFM concepts, including a laser and photodetector to monitor deflection of the cantilever beam. “The ability to measure how hard, how long, and when we are touching the surface gives us that reproducibility we were looking for and that just isn’t available today with other approaches.”

How the NanoArrayer Could Speed Commercialization

At present, the top application for the NanoArrayer is biosensor functionalization, including such devices as cantilever sensors, optical waveguides, nanotube sensors and nanowire sensors.

“One of the key problems sensor researchers haven’t yet overcome is simply how are they going to functionalize these sensors that are all packed right next to one another,” Lynch said. To activate nano-biosensors “you have to deliver an antibody, nucleic acid or other biomolecule to make the senor functional and specific for a particular analyte,” Lynch said. “That is where the NanoArrayer comes in. We deliver that biomolecule to activate it.”

The NanoArrayer is already showing capability beyond biosensors.

* Aiding research in microfluidics -- By enabling multiplexing within a microfluidic channel, the NanoArrayer is letting researchers print a nanoarray of biomolecules inside a channel. “So, instead of analyzing just one sample inside a microchannel, you can now analyze hundreds of things inside one channel,” Lynch said.

* New single chip diagnostics -- The NanoArrayer also helped BioForce to design and build a diagnostic device called the ViriChip. The ViriChip, now under patent, uses principles of AFM to detect and identify multiple viruses and pathogens simultaneously on a single chip without the use of a label.

* Opening unexpected frontiers -- “Johns Hopkins was working with us to do biosensor functionalization work. But, after they realized it could help them construct complex patterns of biomolecules on surfaces, they shifted their focus of use with the NanoArrayer from biosensors to cell biology research.” This new application involves patterning surfaces with various biomolecules to study cellular adhesion and growth processes.

Reminded of the phrase: ‘A hammer can pound a lot of different nails,’ Lynch jokingly told NWN, “Well then, we have a new hammer” for nanotech researchers.

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