It may look all innocent, but this little logic circuit is made from organic molecules that lined themselves up to form 300 transistors, without the need for machine production. This kind of chip-in-a-test-tube approach to creating semiconductors, demonstrated as effective for the first time by Philips Research, could cause a big leap towards cheaper, more flexible electronics—in a word, to quote The Graduate, "plastics."
We may think of "plastic electronics" as any Chinese-made product that needs to be plugged into the wall, but in this definition, it means the circuitry itself that's plastic rather than silicon, and can be used to create things that require flexibility. Today, as we've seen firsthand with OLED production, plastic circuitry can be made using inkjet printing. Another technique is lithographic etching.
Self-assembly is more practical, but Philips' breakthrough needs to be worked on before it can be put to use in a factory. One researcher, Edsger Smits, told Technology Review that the goal "is to be able to throw molecules in a beaker and let them organise into desired structures." Yeah, great, but desired by whom, Edsger? [Technology Review]