Many applications in modern materials science require surfaces with embedded chemical information at scales < 10 nm, to control interactions with light for energy conversion, to direct the flow of electrons, or to induce molecular recognition with receptor protein complexes on cell surfaces. Lithographic patterning rapidly becomes more expensive at scales below 100 nm, and is limited in terms of the chemistry that can be patterned. Conversely, biology generates a spectacular diversity of chemical patterns at few-nm scales, to control chemical and mechanical circuits that are central to biological function. A fundamental transformation to the molecular constituents of cell membranes enables us to use them to pattern interfaces with resolution exceeding that available at cutting edge lithographic fabrication facilities. We describe technological applications of the powerful chemical control enabled by this approach, from templating inorganic nanowires to scaffolding cell growth.