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A third wave of electronics

The first wave of electronics was born a century ago with the invention of vacuum tubes. The bulky tubes were supplanted 50 years later by transistors and integrated circuits, representing the second wave, which is now giving way to nano-scale electronics. Nanotechnology promises to bring a "third wave" of electronics.

1900-1950: Vacuum tubes are invented and perfected, resulting in radio, television and room-size computers. Vacuum-tube technology reached its fundamental limits by the late 1940s.

1950-2000: Transistors are invented, leading to integrated circuits and computer microchips and driving dramatic advancements in computers and electronics. But the semiconductor era is winding down, and it eventually will become prohibitively expensive to make ever-shrinking devices using conventional methods.

2000-2050: A new paradigm, a third wave in electronics, holds enormous economic potential. It likely will lead to computers that have unprecedented processing power and a plethora of innovations, including nano-robots and wireless Internet devices that are implanted in, or worn on, the body.