How does a computer chip work? — JM, Austin, TX
A computer chip is also known as a digital integrated circuit. It is typically a thin wafer of silicon, cut from a single crystal of that element. The surface of the wafer has been chemically modified and it has had intricate patterns of aluminum wires and other structures cut and deposited photographically on its surface to form enormous numbers of transistors and other special structures. Each of these transistors is an electronically controllable switch. A tiny adjustment in the electric charge on the control element of one of these transistors—its gate—can dramatically alter that transistor’s current carrying ability. These transistors work together to perform task that range from remembering one bit of information to multiplying two huge numbers together. The millions of transistors on a typical computer chip are able to perform extremely complicated tasks, as we see everyday in modern computers.