Researchers from MIT's Microsystems Technology Laboratories claim to have created the smallest transistor ever to be made out of a material other than silicon. The transistor is made of indium gallium arsenide, a material already used in fiber-optic and radar technologies, and is just 22 nanometers thick — the size of about nine strands of human DNA. Because this is the same type of transistor typically used in microprocessors, it could mean more densely packed — and consequently higher performance — chips.

Researchers hope to have found an alternative to silicon, the speed and effectiveness of which dwindles on extremely small scales, threatening the forward progress predicted by Moore's Law. Co-developer and MIT professor Jesús del Alamo claims that this development "promises to take Moore's Law beyond the reach of silicon." MIT News reports that the researchers' next step is to improve the transistor's electrical performance and overall speed. If they manage to achieve that goal, the team intends to attempt to shrink the device even further, aiming for smaller than ten nanometers.

MIT's research team will be presenting their findings this week at the International Electron devices meeting in San Franciso alongside researchers from Purdue and Harvard Universities who have created a christmas-tree shaped transistor using the same material. The unique stacked shape, Purdue professor Peide Ye says, leads to more current and faster operation. Purdue researchers expect to reduce their transistor to 14 nanometers by 2015, and ten nanometers by 2018.