Hang on, we didn’t know how molecules conduct electricity?

Chris Lee

Hang on, we didn't know how molecules conduct electricity?

Sometimes the intersection of physics, engineering, and "we want the shiny" can be a bit weird. In the drive to smaller and more efficient electronic devices, some are trying to shrink existing approaches, while others are heading straight to the ultimate end point: using molecules to do everything. The basic idea is that electronic conduction through a molecule can be controlled by using electrons to modify the electronic or physical configuration of the molecule. Since it may only take a few femtoseconds (10-15s) to change this state, chemists paint pictures of high-speed electronic nirvana. The automatic response is: "Let’s build it NOOOOW."

As any good scientist would do, when these ideas were suggested, they didn’t think too hard about whether it would work; instead, they just tried it. It wasn’t easy, but examples of molecular conductors are littered throughout the scientific record. In real life, these molecules worked, but nowhere near well enough to make devices. With some time to think about things, scientists were faced with a pressing question: why the hell do these things work at all? Handwaving explanations have abounded, but now, a good robust explanation has been put forward.

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