Wafer Power: Mighty Silicon

This abundant element is a gem in the lab.

Microelectronics is the creation of very tiny electrical circuits -- finer than a human hair. These circuits run everything, from computers to phones. Most are made out of silicon, a very strong and rigid crystal which can be sliced as thin as a wafer.

By adding impurities to silicon -- they can turn an insulating material into a semi-conducting one and make "semiconductors." Scientists at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Mass., are finding ways to make microelectronics -- faster, smaller, and less expensive.

"We do a lot of new-idea creation, brainstorming, and we talk a lot -- even at lunch -- about new ideas that might be really interesting and a big benefit," says electrical engineer Jeremy Muldavin.