The Goal: Computers millions of times faster. The research into single-molecule transistors, DNA strands, and quantum effects provides tantalizing clues.
Ike Chuang holds a pencil-thin test tube containing a bright orange solution of a billion billion molecules, the core of each one a combination of five fluorine and two carbon atoms. He slides the test tube into the chamber of a modified nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) machine that looks like an enormous pressure cooker. Inside the machine, the sample is surrounded by radio frequency coils attached to amplifiers and signal generators "like those inside a cellphone, only much larger," Chuang says.