All of tech-dom’s aflutter with news that Stanford University engineers have built a functional processor out of carbon nanotubes. A very primitive processor, mind you, with number-juggling capabilities one of the Stanford engineers admits are roughly on par with the Intel 4004 — you know, Intel’s very first microprocessor, released nearly four decades ago.

But the breakthrough here, outlined in the science journal Nature, is the shift from silicon to carbon, which could be both faster and more efficient when you’re gauging the demands of tomorrow’s exponentially more powerful computers. That, you’re going to hear a lot of people claim, could mean carbon nanotubes are the magic bullet we’ve been waiting for to stave off the imminent collapse of Moore’s Law.

More on that in a moment, but first, what the heck are carbon nanotubes anyway?

Imagine atom-thin layers of carbon — a chemical element that among…

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