The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

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Photo: Imec
Short Stack: Imec constructed transistors from stacks of horizontal silicon nanowires (cross section of array shown here).
Photo: Imec

Five years ago, Intel introduced today’s high-­performance transistor to the world. Dubbed the ­FinFET, the device takes its name from its appearance: The transistor’s current-carrying channel sticks up vertically in the shape of a fin, and the gate that controls it drapes over the sides. The result is a much tighter control over the flow of current, which in modern microprocessors can fairly easily sneak across the transistor when it’s supposed to be shut off.

But well before the FinFET exploded onto the scene in 2011, engineers and device physicists had already been looking at the possibility of taking that transistor geometry to its logical conclusion, with a gate that completely surrounds the ­current-carrying channel. Shifting to such a “gate-all-around” geometry would, in ­theory, allow chip companies to produce shorter transistors that don’t leak copious amounts of current, improving speed or power consumption in the process.

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The Transistor at 75

The past, present, and future of the modern world’s most important invention

1 min read
A photo of a birthday cake with 75 written on it.
Lisa Sheehan

Seventy-five years is a long time. It’s so long that most of us don’t remember a time before the transistor, and long enough for many engineers to have devoted entire careers to its use and development. In honor of this most important of technological achievements, this issue’s package of articles explores the transistor’s historical journey and potential future.

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