The researchers, based at the University of Texas at Austin said the breakthrough promises “dramatically faster, smaller and more efficient computer chips”.
The silicon is called silicene and the team demonstrated that it could be made into transistors, the basic building block of a central processing unit (CPU) in a computer.
According to lead researcher Li Tao, until a few years back silicene was a purely theoretical material but by studying graphene, which is also one atom thick, scientists theorised that a similar material could be based on the element silicon.
However, silicene is unstable and to fix this problem, scientists created a new method for fabricating it.
They allowed a hot vapour of silicon atoms to condense on a crystalline block of silver in a vacuum chamber, then forming a silicene sheet and adding a nanometre thick layer of alumina on the top. They could then scrape some silver to leave behind two islands of metals as electrodes with silicone between them.
Although the work is in its early stages, the team believes that the discovery will lead to low energy, high speed computer chips.