Heeger, MacDiarmid and Shirakawa made their breakthrough in the late 1970s, when they discovered that the electrical conductivity of a certain form of polyacetylene increased by a factor of ten million when it was doped with iodine. Subsequent developments have produced diverse applications for the technology: conductive plastics are used in anti-static materials, filters for blocking the radiation produced by computer screens, and electronic windows that can switch light transmission on and off. Semiconducting polymers have also been incorporated into light-emitting diodes, solar cells and displays.

Future research on plastic conductors, which is closely linked to molecular electronics, is likely to yield ever-smaller electronic components - and an accompanying increase in the speed of our computers.