It might look like something out of Tron, but you're actually looking at a new type of transistor made out of germanium—which is four times faster than those currently in use.
The new transistor, developed at MIT, is what scientists refer to as a p-type device: an electronic component which relies on holes—voids in a material's atomic structure—for current to flow. Usually such devices are incredibly difficult to improve, but the MIT researchers grew germanium crystals in a clever way to eke out performance.
Essentially, they grew the germanium on top of several different layers of silicon and a silicon-germanium composite. That process teases the germanium atoms into aligning with those on the layers beneath, straining the material and forcing the uppermost layers to be far more compacted than when they grow naturally by themselves. Think of it as training a plant into shape by tying it to a cane.
That compacted form makes the holes in the germanium much closer. In turn, the resulting transistors are twice as fast as the most advanced experimental designs produced to date, and four times faster than the cutting-edge commercial variates. The upshot? Another speed bump for your humble computer—a couple of years down the line, at any rate. [The Engineer]
Image by Winston Chern and James Teherani