Non-Contact Method for Creating Micro-scale Topographical Patterns in Polymers

Physical Sciences : Materials and Compounds

Available for licensing


  • Christopher Ellison, Ph.D.
  • Joshua Katzenstein , University of Texas at Austin

Background/unmet need

Polymeric materials have become prolific due in part to their versatile characteristics, cost effectiveness, and highly tailored production. The science of polymer synthesis allows for excellent control over the physical properties of bulk polymer materials. However, surface interactions of polymer substrates are less understood. Surface manipulations of polymers are an essential area of study in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and all forms of coating applications.

Photochemical modification, typically using UV radiation, is used to encourage protein adhesion by favorably altering the surface charge of a polymer-based biomaterial. One of the inherent issues to current techniques for creating topography through UV radiation in polymer films is the long and tedious process for producing the topographical pattern. Such problems arise from the need for long exposure and annealing times for the patterning of only small areas of the polymer.

Invention Description

Inventors at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a novel method of patterning the surface of polymeric films using light without the need for a photomask. This non-contact method enables rapid development of patterned structures at a micro or macro scale for ultimate functionality. This is the first instance of use of a UV light source to transfer a pattern from a photomask as a surface energy gradient into a polymer film, and then use of this pattern to develop three-dimensional topographic features by simple thermal annealing. The invention is superior to electrohydrodynamic patterning and conventional photolithography in that various steps for traditional pattern development are eliminated to improve patterning speed.


  • High-speed patterning
  • Increased output speed
  • Patterning micro/nano textured surface
  • Eliminates need for a photomask and electric field for pattern transfer
  • Eliminates need for wet or dry development processes to reveal surface structures


  • Efficient surface modification of polymeric substances
  • The ability to develop topography in absence of a mask
  • High-speed patterning with short light exposure time
  • Potential to pattern large areas at once
  • Superior to traditional electrohydrodynamic patterning and photolithography

Market potential/applications

According to Freedonia Group, U.S. demand for polymer films is currently valued at $6.7 billion and is expected to reach $8.4 billion by 2019. Surface patterning of polymers allows for the fabrication of complex topological patterns, which are essential for the production of modern technologies. The market for topographical patterning in polymers has many industrial applications, including non-toxic bio-adhesion, soft lithographic stamps, optical components, and microfluidic devices.

Development Stage

Proof of concept

IP Status