The Long History of Molecular Electronics: Microelectronics Origins of Nanotechnology
Social Studies of Science
Vol. 39, Num. 1
This article deals mainly with the semiconductor industry and nanotechnologys promise as viable competition. The authors detail the history of both silicon-based semiconductors and their alternative since the 1950s, molecular electronics-based semiconductors. They see the failure of the molecular electronics industry in the twentieth century as a combination of too much bureaucratic control and too fantastic a vision for its application. Between Westinghouse, the US Air Force and the Naval Research Laboratory, many dollars and much enthusiasm were sunk into this dream of molecular electronics that could scale the brick wall that silicon represented, but the limitations of working within the government and the very nature of the proposed breakthroughs all but ensured silicon would remain unchallenged in the semiconductor industry through the centurys end. Government-sponsored scientists tried various new avenues to transcend silicon, including molecular electronics, spintronics, and quantum computing, but the slow-moving nature of government research and the necessity to provide proof of progress kept any of these avenues from bearing fruit. It was only at the dawn of the twenty-first century, as these authors suggest, that the National Nanotechnology Initiative brought together the government and scientists again, this time in a far more conciliatory fashion, to work toward finally getting past silicon and coming to a new age in electronics through the use of nanotechnology. While this fate is not an absolute, the authors see these earlier attempts at molecular electronics as a necessary step in the development of nanotechnology, and hope others will see the connection.