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This is an abbreviation for molecular electronics, the idea that individual elements of computer circuits could be formed using single molecules of substances. This would permit huge increases in the density of circuits on a chip and allow them to run much faster and cooler. Actually, the idea — and the term molecular electronics as well as an older version of the abbreviation, molectronics — go back at least as far as a US Air Force project in association with Westinghouse in 1959, before even the integrated circuit had gone into production. That project came to nothing in a couple of years, because they couldn’t work out how to achieve their goal. This time around, prospects are more hopeful, as researchers from Hewlett-Packard and the University of California, Los Angeles, announced in July 1999 that they’ve actually made logic circuits that use molecular level chemical processes. These rely on a network of weird organic molecules called rotaxanes that contain a ring of atoms threaded on a central molecule, like a bead on a wire, with blocking elements at each end to keep it on. Reports have claimed that we shall soon have “computers the size of grains of sand”, which common sense suggests we should take with a different sort of grain altogether.

Indeed, the new era of moletronics is beckoning just as silicon-era technologists are reaching their own stunning levels of transistor density.

New York Times, July 1999

The field of molecular electronics — moletronics — is growing fast, and while researchers are keeping their feet on the ground for now, the ideas are flowing thick and fast.

Personal Computer World. Nov. 1999

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 25 Sep. 1999

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-mol1.htm
Last modified: 25 September 1999.