Now scientists are a step closer to producing microscopic computers. "Nanomachines" are devices that act on the microscopic or even molecular scale. A team of scientists in Japan has succeeded in making a binary switch - the fundamental working unit of any computer - out of a single molecule.
A report in this week's New Scientist outlines how the string-like molecules, of a chemical called azobenzene, can act as a locator for another molecule, cyclodextrin, that occupies one of two places - a binary "zero" or "one" - on the "string" depending whether the molecule is exposed to visible or ultraviolet light. The whole assembly, known as a rotaxane, was created by Naotoshi Nakashima and colleagues at Nagasaki University.
Jon McCleverty of Bristol University described the work as a "breakthrough", but added that practical applications may be some way off as thhe system takes several minutes to operate - millions of times slower than conventional electronic systems.
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