Design A Molecule In Your Basement Workshop

Before Autodesk Inc. came along, computer-aided design (CAD) was performed primarily on expensive minicomputers running costly software. But around 1983, the Sausalito (Calif.) company's AutoCAD package, priced under $1,000, made it possible to design products such as tennis rackets on ordinary IBM-compatible PCs. Hundreds of thousands of engineers, industrial designers, and tinkerers bought the package.

Now, AutoDesk hopes to repeat its success with a product called HyperChem, aimed at chemists and biophysicists. The package allows researchers to create and view chemical structures such as peptides and enzymes on a PC. That's important in developing products such as NutraSweet, which requires finding new ways to combine molecules. HyperChem, which works with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows graphics program, can take experimental data directly from a spreadsheet. The package, due out in March, will sell for $3,000 to $5,000 but will be sold to universities for less than $1,000. Similar programs for workstations and minis do more but start at $10,000.