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The first sophisticated electronic circuits made from germanium, a promising alternative to silicon, show a path for the computer industry to keep advancing beyond the physical limitations now being reached. Researchers from Purdue University demonstrated the circuits this week at the International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco.

Switching from silicon to germanium would be an ironic twist. The first transistor, created at Bell Labs in 1947, was made of a slab of germanium, an element one spot below silicon in the periodic table. Germanium was tried because charge flows through it very rapidly, a key property for a transistor. But as engineers worked out how to make integrated circuits and manufacture them on a large scale, germanium was set aside for silicon because it’s easier to work with.

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