In 2010, scientists at IBM Research - Zurich created the
world’s smallest three-dimensional map of the earth (a GuinnessWorld Record
) demonstrating a new tool to fabricate structures and objects
on the nanometer scale.
But IBM isn’t in the nano-tooling business, so standard
procedure to bring the tool to market would require a partner – similar to what
was done with the scanning tunneling microscope in the mid-80s.
The two inventors, Felix Holzner and Dr. Philip Paul, took a
different approach and decided to license the technology from IBM, bringing it
to market themselves under the name of SwissLitho
|Young entrepreneurs |
Philip Paul (left) and Felix Holzner
Felix and Philip met while working together
starting in 2009, when the tool was first conceived.
In 2010, two papers highlighting the work were published in Science
and Advanced Materials
. It received high
accolades from the scientific community and gave them the confidence to launch
The collaboration between IBM
and SwissLitho will extend beyond just patent licensing. A joint development
agreement will be set up within the framework of an EU research project and a CTI
development project. These projects aim to advance the technology of the
NanoFrazor and will extend the opportunities for IBM
to use the NanoFrazor for novel research applications.
Before packing up for their new offices, Felix and Philip answered a few questions.
When is SwissLitho officially going to be launched?
Felix: We actually founded SwissLitho back in January of
2012. We are slowly creating some marketing buzz with the launch of our website
by doing some press interviews,
and contacting potential customers.
What does this nano-patterning tool do?
Philip: We call our tool the NanoFrazor and
you can think of it as a nano-sized chisel, similar to what the ancient Egyptians used to create hieroglyphics.
Our NanoFrazor is an exciting new tool for
the fabrication of nanometer-sized, 3D shaped devices and structures. Quality
control and metrology can be performed immediately during or after patterning,
ensuring very short turnaround times.
The fabrication process is all-dry,
direct-write, and is compatible with standard cleanroom fabrication processing.
nanotechnology producers can use this economical and user-friendly tool to
fabricate and investigate quickly and easily the nanostructures that are
increasingly needed for electronic, optical or quantum nano-devices.
What are your respective roles within the company, and
how did you decide that?
Felix: Well, it was pretty clear from the beginning that I
would act as CEO. I’ve been responsible for the business side from the very
Philip: My focus has been more on the technical development,
so my business card will read Chief Science Officer. But as with any startup,
we’ll be wearing many different hats.
Felix, you participated in “VentureLab” at ETH Zurich. Can you tell us something
a special entrepreneurial workshop that provides coaching for startups. I
needed the credits for my PhD, so it seemed a perfect match. It’s fairly competitive—they
only take 25 out of about 150 applicants. The participants propose their own
projects, and five of the 25 are then chosen as case studies. SwissLitho was
one of them.
In fact, your NanoFrazor project ended up receiving the
Venture and venturekick award. Congratulations.
Felix: Thank you, yes, this has really given the NanoFrazor
some welcomed exposure within the investors community.
What gave you the final push to go ahead with your
Felix: IBM had been looking for business partners to
commercialize our nanofabrication technology. Negotiations were conducted for
over a year, but in the end, we ultimately decided that our technology has
become too valuable to hand over to another company.
Philip, what was your main contribution?
Philip: I joined the project to make the tool much faster
and more ready for commercialization. I was hired to push its boundaries to see
how fast it could go.
How did you come up with the name “NanoFrazor”?
Felix: First of all, the name had to be unique for branding
purposes. We coined the word “Frazor” from the German word “Fräse”, which means
“milling tool”, combined with “razor” to highlight the sharp tip that creates
Who are your potential customers?
Felix: We’ll target academia to start, but eventually we
also hope to attract industrial customers. The technology needs to be improved
and refined before that will be feasible, however. Our goal is have our
technology used throughout academia in order to improve it and find new applications.
Philip: Our technology is a good alternative to e-beam
lithography because of its small desktop-sized footprint and its significantly
lower cost. So in the longer term, we believe that major suppliers of
scientific instruments could be very interested in our technology. There could
be some good synergies with atomic force microscopy tool manufacturers.
Is your product “Made in Switzerland”?
Philip: For the most part, yes. The components are sourced
from suppliers in the US, Switzerland and Germany. Don’t forget: at the moment
it’s just a prototype, still in the cottage industry phase. We have the
know-how to make our own electronics locally.
What about copycat or retro-engineering manufacturing?
Philip: Our invention is protected by five patents and the
design is quite clever and refined, if we do say so ourselves (laughs
Good luck on this exciting new venture.
Felix: Many thanks. Launching a new business is always a
risky undertaking, but we’re optimistic it will work.
Philip: The NanoFrazor has so much potential. We are convinced
it will be a boon to nanotechnology.
Labels: e-beam lithography, ETH Zurich, Felix Holzner, IBM Research - Zurich, NanoFrazor, nanotechnology, Philip Paul, SwissLitho, VentureLab