Y-Prize 2017: Carbon Nanopipettes and Nanotribological Printing

Each year, Engineering, Wharton and the Penn Center for Innovation come together for an invention competition known as the Y-Prize. Unlike the XPRIZE, where competitors come up with novel technologies to solve a particular problem, the Y-Prize starts with the technologies and challenges entrants to find commercial applications they are particularly suited for.

At stake: $10,000 to help get the winning idea out of the lab and into the market. The contest will begin on Tuesday, September 19 with a kick-off event at Steinberg-Dietrich Hall, though entries are not due until November 5.

Any Penn student can form a team and brainstorm a startup company that makes use this year’s set of technologies, both of which were developed in Engineering labs and operate at the nanoscale: the world of materials and devices that are on the range of a billionth of a meter.

Carbon Nanopipettes

Haim Bau, Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, has developed a way of coating a standard glass pipette with an extremely thin layer of carbon, culminating with in a tip that can be only 10s of nanometers across. Along with being a way of providing a way of interfacing a nanoscale structure with a human-scale handle, the addition of electrically conductive carbon allows the pipette to serve as an electrochemical sensor. These size and sensing traits are especially useful when conducting single-cell studies, as the nanopipettes can penetrate cell walls with minimal damage.

Nanotribological Printing

Rob Carpick, John Henry Towne Professor and Chair of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, has applied his group’s research on friction and wear in an innovative way. While using an atomic force microscope to study friction-reducing motor-oil additives, his team found that the tip of the AFM left behind solid structures as it dragged along these chemicals. They realized this phenomenon would enable AFMs to work like nanoscale 3-D printers, drawing patterns five hundred times smaller than the width of a human hair.