We present a method that uses microcontact printing of alkanethiols on gold to generate patterned substrates presenting “islands” of extracellular matrix (ECM) surrounded by nonadhesive regions such that single cells attach and spread only on the adhesive regions. We have used this micropatterning technology to demonstrate that mammalian cells can be switched between growth and apoptosis programs in the presence of saturating concentrations of growth factors by either promoting or preventing cell spreading (Science 276:1425–1428, 1997). From the perspective of fundamental cell biology, these results suggested that the local differentials in growth and viability that are critical for the formation of complex tissue patterns may be generated by local changes in cell–ECM interactions. In the context of cell culture technologies, such as bioreactors and cellular engineering applications, the regulation of cell function by cell shape indicates that the adhesive microenvironment around cells can be carefully optimized by patterning a substrate in addition to using soluble factors (Biotech. Prog. 14:356–363, 1998). Micropatterning technology is playing a central role both in our understanding how ECM and cell shape regulate cell physiology and in facilitating the development of cellular biosensor and tissue engineering applications (Science 264:696–698, 1994; J. Neurosci. Res. 13:213–20, 1985; Biotech. Bioeng. 43:792–800, 1994).