Just Right for Mini-Me: the Mini-Micro-PC

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Researchers at UCLA and Hewlett-Packard have succeeded in constructing microscopic integrated circuits using single molecules as building blocks, an achievement that could lead the way to stunningly powerful and compact computers. Conventional computers are powered by tiny circuits etched in silicon by a laser, but a computer based on molecule-sized circuits would be vastly more compact and require much less power -- James Heath, the UCLA professor leading the project, has suggested that a molecular computer with the processing power of 100 conventional PCs would be about the size of a grain of salt.

The implications are almost unimaginable - cheap, ubiquitous supercomputing, unlimited memory capacity, medical nano-devices small enough to float in the human bloodstream, and beyond - but it will be years before actual functioning molecular computers will be constructed. "This is an important stepping stone, but we still have a long way to go, " James Tour, an expert in the field who teaches at Rice University, told the New York Times. "I don't want people to think that in three to five years we'll have molecular electronics."