Whatever Happened to the Molecular Computer?

Why the tantalizing promise of replacing silicon with molecular components has yet to be fulfilled

12 min read
Illustration: Dan Page
Illustration: Dan Page

Forty years ago, a New York University graduate student named Arieh Aviram opened his Ph.D. dissertation with a bold suggestion: “Taking a clue from nature, [which] utilizes molecules for the carrying out of many physical phenomena, it may be possible to miniaturize electronic components down to molecular size.” What Aviram was proposing was revolutionary: leapfrogging the ongoing miniaturization trend of Moore’s Law by substituting single organic molecules for silicon transistors and diodes.

In a paper written with his thesis advisor, Mark Ratner, Aviram even described a theoretical starting point for such a revolution—a “molecular rectifier” [subscription required], for converting alternating current to direct current.

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Engineers Are Working on a Solar Microgrid to Outlast Lunar Nights

Future lunar bases will need power for mining and astronaut survival

4 min read
A rendering of a lunar base. In the foreground are rows of solar panels and behind them are two astronauts standing in front of a glass dome with plants inside.
P. Carril/ESA

The next time humans land on the moon, they intend to stay awhile. For the Artemis program, NASA and its collaborators want to build a sustained presence on the moon, which includes setting up a base where astronauts can live and work.

One of the crucial elements for a functioning lunar base is a power supply. Sandia National Laboratories, a research and development lab that specializes in building microgrids for military bases, is teaming up with NASA to design one that will work on the moon.

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Trilobite-Inspired Camera Boasts Huge Depth of Field

New camera relies on “metalenses” that could be fabricated using a standard CMOS foundry

3 min read
Black and white image showing different white box shapes in rows

Scanning electron microscope image of the titanium oxide nanopillars that make up the metalens. The scale is 500 nanometers (nm).

NIST

Inspired by the eyes of extinct trilobites, researchers have created a miniature camera with a record-setting depth of field—the distance over which a camera can produce sharp images in a single photo. Their new study reveals that with the aid of artificial intelligence, their device can simultaneously image objects as near as 3 centimeters and as far away as 1.7 kilometers.

Five hundred million years ago, the oceans teemed with horseshoe-crab-like trilobites. Among the most successful of all early animals, these armored invertebrates lived on Earth for roughly 270 million years before going extinct.

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