Electroninks uses Kickstarter campaign to fund circuit pen

By Jacqui Ogrodnik

Before the printing press was invented, the job of a scribe was to handwrite copies of documents and literary works. Today, the job of a circuit is to provide a path for electrical current to flow. When Electroninks Incorporated combined these two jobs into a single pen, it created the Circuit Scribe.

Electroninks, a start-up company in the Research Park, which started in January, is a spinoff of the research lab of Jennifer Lewis, co-founder and former University professor of materials science and engineering who is currently working at the Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Brett Walker, CEO and co-founder of Electroninks, based the company’s technology of conductive inks on his Ph.D. dissertation work in Lewis’ lab group.

“My dissertation work on reactive silver inks received significant amount of commercial interest, and as I went through my Ph.D. career, the interest kept growing,” Walker said. “It was evident that there was enough commercial demand to start a company off this.”

With this demand, Walker created Electroninks after licensing his technology with the University’s Office of Technology Management, which has been working closely with the co-founders by creating patent applications for the company’s product, the Circuit Scribe.

The Circuit Scribe is a conductive rollerball pen that can be used for directly depositing conductive inks onto paper, creating a circuit almost instantly. The lines drawn from the pen can interconnect other components, such as resistors.

“A lot of current circuit repair and circuit prototyping tools require several hours to dry,” Walker said. “This is a water-based ink that can draw circuits and prototypes instantly and is friendly to work with.”

The nontoxic, water-based conductive ink dries quickly, allowing the user to create low-cost and high-quality electronics nearly instantly.

“The composition of the ink is actually like that of a commercial gel-ink pen, except we’ve replaced the colorful pigments in the pen with conductive silver particles,” said Analisa Russo, director of STEM Outreach and product development at Electroninks. “Try it on paper, it dries and the particles form a conductive network that conducts electricity.”

Russo said she tries to coordinate with educators to design workshops for teaching students about circuits and using the pen. 

“It can be a really powerful prototyping tool for engineers…,” she said. “For a student who’s new to electronics, it presents a level of attraction between circuit diagrams that they learn about in a textbook and a circuit that actually functions.”

The business-to-business side of Electroninks deals mainly with reactive silver ink technology, which is a high-conductivity, low-temperature enabling product that is used in production printing presses, such as inkjet, aerosol, spin coating and roll-to-roll printing.

Lisa Dhar, associate director of the Office of Technology Management’s strategic initiatives, said because the ink has high conductivity, it can be placed on a range of substrates, from plastic to paper, that normally would not be able to tolerate the typical high temperatures that other inks require.

From people in the medical field, where they are looking at applying conductive traces on different types of medical devices, to people in the typing industry, Dhar said Electroninks has a lot of interest in establishing partnerships in a wide range of industries, giving the company a chance to become a widely used ink.

“In terms of partnering with companies, licensing out their ink to be used with companies, custom developing different formulations for companies, there are a lot of possibilities in terms of how it can grow,” Dhar said.

The company launched a Kickstarter fund Wednesday morning. With the goal of reaching $85,000, Electroninks is hoping to receive the initial funding for production runs of the pens compared to the small runs of prototypes that are made by hand.

“We’re hoping to pass the goal in the first couple of days,” Walker said. “We have a lot of outlets and different ways to market the campaign … blogs, tech blogs, media outlets, University outlets, professional contacts and friends and family.”

Walker will begin hiring full-time employees at the beginning of next year. He will also offer internships, focusing on those who have a background in material science, chemistry and electrical engineering.

“If we’re successful with our campaign, we plan to add more functional inks to our library of rollerball pen inks, like inks that act like a resistor or an ink that acts like an insulator,” Russo said. “We’d also like to build a community for Circuit Scribe users to share circuit designs with each other in some sort of forum.”

Jacqui can be reached [email protected]