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NCCU and Partners Receive Grant for Nanoscale 3-D Printer

NCCU graduate student Tierra Poteat works with the microscale 3-D printer in the laboratory of Dr. John Bang.
Dr. John Bang
Published: Friday, September 27, 2013

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center has awarded $200,000 to a group of scientists and engineers from North Carolina Central University, Duke University and North Carolina State University to purchase a Dip Pen Nanolithography (DPN) unit, a device that functions as a 3-D printer at the molecular level and has a vast range of potential applications.

John Bang, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor and interim chair of NCCU’s Department of Environmental, Earth and Geospatial Sciences, who is one of the principal investigators, said the device has the ability to operate under ambient conditions — without the need for a cleanroom — and deposit features with sub-cellular resolution. “The potential of DPN applications is beyond description,” Bang said. “For those with a focus on nanoscale research in biomedical, pharmaceutical and environmental fields, the DPN technique makes it possible to fabricate almost anything from pretty much all types of materials.”

The device can print organic, inorganic and biological materials, including proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, hydrogels, alkanethiols, silanes, polymers and nanoparticles, in complex user-defined patterns, he said. DPN can fabricate multiplexed, customized patterns with feature sizes as small as 50 nanometers (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter) or as big as 10 micrometers (a micrometer is 1 millionth of a meter) on a variety of substrates, including glass, plastic, gold and silicon.

Bang believes groups working in a wide range of science and engineering fields — especially nanofabrication and nanomaterials; protein analysis; cell biology and microenvironment; biomolecules; cell biology and microenvironment; biomolecules, biomaterials and biointerfaces; and sensor development — can benefit from the technology, and he welcomes their inquiries. 

The device, manufactured by NanoInk of Skokie, Ill., will be housed at Duke University, where it will be available for use by all the partners in the project. Delivery is expected later this fall. Sharing in the grant with Bang are Dr. David Murdoch and Dr. Mark Walters at Duke and Dr. Jen Genzer at N.C. State.

Bang also recently acquired a microscale 3-D printer in his lab for both student training and scaffold generation in the field of microstereolithography, for use in a National Science Foundation-funded project to develop technological solutions to water pollution. “These scaffold products will be used as platforms for testing photocatalytic hybrid nanomaterials that four graduate students in my lab, Tierra Poteat, Shawn Muslim, Alexandra Valladares and Patricia Cline-Thomas, are working on,” Bang said. “As global markets become more competitive, helping our students engage in and have hands-on experience in the most advanced laboratory techniques will be a key to their success.”

By using both 3-D printers at nano and microscale, Bang hopes to develop a reliable deposition and delivery method for real-life applications in the fields of environmental, biomedical and manufacturing industries, especially for the removal of chemical pollutants and biological contaminants.

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