Explaining the Complex Simplicity of Transistors

Arguably the 20th century’s most important invention, transistors were introduced 75 years ago. A 2-minute video shows how they work.



​As the world celebrates the transistor’s 75th anniversary on Dec. 16, it’s time to pay tribute to the microscopic electric switches that make our world work. In computers, mobile phones, data centers, toasters, cars and more, transistors are arguably the most important invention of the 20th century.

First invented in 1947 at Bell Labs, early transistors were large enough that engineers pieced them together by hand. Spurred by Moore’s Law to cram more transistors onto computer chips, Intel engineers for over 50 years have invented revolutionary transistor innovations, including strained silicon, high-k metal gate, FinFet and, more recently, RibbonFET. Today’s chips, not much larger than a fingernail, contain billions of transistors.

Watch a 2-minute explainer on what exactly a transistor does, allowing electrical currents to send, receive and process digital data in the form of 1s and 0s.