US scientists at the University of Rochester are working on a new kind of transistor that could be massively more powerful than today's designs.
Known as the "ballistic deflection transistor" (BDT), the device uses individual electrons that are fired through a polarised gate towards a wedge-shaped block. The electric field applied across the gate pulls each electron towards one side or the other of the channel, such that it bounces off the wedge and flies either left or right. Left means the electron is recorded as a 0, and right would record it as a 1.
You can see a diagram of the mechanism here.The university has been awarded $1.1m (£580,000) by America's National Science Federation to fund further work on the BDT.
Today's commercial transistors typically involve the flow of large numbers of electrons within silicon and their statistically significant changes when electric charges are applied. Because the ballistic method only involves a single electron, each transistor should take up much less space and be much faster to operate.
The Rochester team have suggested that a processor made up of BDTs could operate at terahertz speeds, around a thousand times faster than today's desktop computers, according to Physorg.com.