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Chapter 1

Semiconductor PN Junction Theory

Contents of this chapter


Semiconductor materials
Introduction of p-n junction
Forward-biased and Reversed-biased p-n junction
IV characteristics of forward-biased and reversedbiased p-n junction

Learning Outcome
At the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. Describe the types of semiconductor materials
2. Explain how the p-n junction is formed
3. Explain the operation of forward-biased and reversed
bias of p-n junctions
4. Extract the information from i-v characteristic of p-n

Revision on chemistry
Atomic structure
When protons = electrons, the atom is
electrically neutral; otherwise it is an ion
and has a net positive or negative
The number of protons determines
the type of atoms

Note: One electron contains -1.6 x10-19 Coulomb of charges

(Proton contains +1.6x10-19 Coulomb.)
The mass of proton = 1.67 x10-27 kg ( neutron).
The mass of electron = 9.1x10-31kg

Example: Atomic structure of

Carbon and Silicon (Group IV)
Carbon has 6 electrons.
4 valence electrons

Silicon has 14 electrons.

4 valence electrons

The number of valence electrons determines

how the atom combines with one another
Atoms with one or two outer electrons + atoms with
six or seven outer electrons ionic bonding
Atoms with four outer electrons combines by sharing
them with other atoms covalent bonding

The type of bonding electrical characteristics

of the material

Energy Levels
Electrons are always in motion.
They move around the nucleus within their
specific shells. Each within the path has a specific
amount of energy.
To jump from one path to another, an electron
needs to receive specific amount
of energy measured in
electron volt (eV).
1 eV = 1.6 x 10-19 Joules

Energy Band
When these atoms combines, the electron of atoms
interact with one another energy level for single
atom form band of energy or energy band.
The amount of energy separating the bands
determines the electrical characteristics of the




Three bands of energy levels form

i) Valence Band most of the electrons are here
ii) Conduction Band electrons here give the
material electrical conductivity
iii) Forbidden Band electrons must jump this
band to get from the valence to the
conduction band

When materials have energy bands that

overlap, electron requires very little energy to
move from one level to another.
When materials have large gap on energy
bands, electron requires very high energy to
move to another band.
When materials have allowable gap on energy
bands as such at room temperature, some
electrons have enough energy to cross the gap.
(example: the energy gaps for Si is 1.1eV, Ge is
0.67eV and GaAs is 1.43eV for at room
temperature, 25C. )

Trivial Questions
Gallium has 31 protons. How many
electrons does it have in each shell?
[Hint: 2n2]

If the energy gap of element A and

element B is 1.1 eV and 6 eV respectively,
which of these elements will be a better
conductor? Why?


Most important material in the study of
The ability to conduct electricity is intermediate.
At room temperature -> not a good conductor.
As temperature , the conductivity as the
resistivity .
e.g. Si (resistivity = 1.69x10-6 /cm), Ge
(All these tetravalent material i.e. they have 4
valence electrons -> covalent bond between

Intrinsic Semiconductor
For pure semiconductor, very few unattached
electrons available at room temperature.
As temperature , kinetic energy and number of
free electrons . Resistivity .
Semiconductor has a negative temperature

Doping process
Doping is process of adding an impurity
(concentration: 1 part/10 million) to the
semiconductor as such it will be a better
form extrinsic semiconductor
Impurity material is known as dopant. 2 types:
Acceptor to form P type material
Donor to form N type material

N-type material
When pentavalent atoms (e.g. phosphorus,
arsenic and antimony) are used as dopants,
there will be many free electrons available for
this dopant is known as donor
This extrinsic semiconductor
is known as N-type because
it contains many electrons
which are negatively charged.
Majority carriers are electrons. Minority carriers are holes.

P-type material
When trivalent atoms (e.g. boron, aluminum
and gallium) are used as dopants, there will be
many holes available for conductivity by
attracting free electron.
this dopant is known as acceptor
This extrinsic semiconductor
is known as P-type because
it contains many holes
which are positively charged.
Majority carriers are holes. Minority carriers are electrons.

How the electron flows?

In Si crystal, electrons (and holes) move through
these mechanism:
Random motion due to thermal agitation
May happen when one part has more free electrons that the other
Gives rise to diffusion current

Occurs when an electric field is applied across a piece of Si
Gives rise to drift current
Drift current and applied electric field -> represents one form of
Ohms Law

Formation of P-N junction

Free electrons diffuse across the junction

to combine with holes that are nearby.

depletion region reduction of electrons

and holes in the region
potential difference (due to +ve and ve
ions created at this junction) -> depends
on the material
Vbarrier = 0.7 V (silicon)
Vbarrier = 0.3 V (germanium)

This P-N structure is called semiconductor diode.

Formation of P-N junction: When

P-type and N-type are brought closer...
There is a natural tendency for electrons to move across
to the P-type region. This diffusion causes recombination
of holes and electrons on each side of the junction.
Each electron that leaves the N-type region and
recombines with a hole on the p-type region creates two
a negative ion on the p-type
a positive ion on the n-type
Diffusion continues until the electrostatic field (known as
barrier potential) created by the junction ions cancels
the forces driving the diffusion process.

Reverse-biased P-N junction

The holes (majority carriers) within

the p-type material are attracted to
the negative terminal of the voltage
The electrons (majority carriers)
within the n-type material are
attracted towards the positive

This action causes it to act like a high

resistance -> barrier potential
applied voltage
no majority carriers flow (will flow
through it)
there is small leakage current (a.k.a.
reverse saturation current, IS) due to
minority carriers.

Current-Voltage Plot (Reverse)

Note: Diode Rating (based on

peak inverse voltage, PIV the
highest reverse bias voltage that
could be applied to the diode,
else it may be badly damaged.)
-> VBR

Wider depletion region ->

barrier potential
applied voltage
there is small leakage
current, IS which is of
approximately constant
value until voltage
reaches breakdown
voltage, VBR.
V<-VBR, existing covalent
bond will breakdown ->
creating additional free

Forward-biased P-N junction

The positive terminal of the

battery repels holes within the
p-type material towards p-n
junction. While the negative
terminal of the battery repels
electrons within the n-type

When a hole combines with

the electron or vice-versa, an
electron-pair bond will
breakdown -> free electrons
move towards the positive
terminal (hence there will be
an electron flow from
negative-to-positive flow).

Initially, the depletion region will shrink as the voltage increases. Once the
voltage value reaches the barrier potential, an appreciable current will flow
through the p-n junction.

Forward-bias measurements show general changes in VF and IF as

VBIAS is increased.
E.g. Silicon diode

Current-Voltage Plot (Forward)

The initial part of voltage ->
reducing the depletion
Once V= Vk -> driving the
majority carriers
V>Vk, I is increases rapidly
(being limited only by the
small resistance).
Relationship between
forward current and
voltage drop across the p-n
structure is nonlinear ->
Ohms Law is not applicable
except for certain condition.

Vk = 0.7V for Silicon,
0.3 V for Germanium

I-V characteristic of P-N junction

Also known as transconductance curve.

Shockleys Equation
This equation is used to describe the p-n junction

ID = IS e


ID = Current through diode (i.e. P-N junction)

IS = Saturation current
n = emission coefficient (determined by diode construction, varies with I),
assume it to be 1 unless otherwise stated or to be determined
VD = Voltage drop across diode (i.e. P-N junction)
VT = Thermal equivalent voltage, given by this;

VT =

k = Boltzmanns coefficient, 1.38 x 10-23 J/K

q = electron charge (1.6 x 10-19 C)
T = temperature in Kelvin (i.e. C +273)

Abraham Pallas, Electronic Devices and
Circuit Analysis, Delmar Publishers, 1986
Robert L. Boylestad and Louis Nashelsky,
Electronic Devices and Circuit Theory, 9th
Edition, Prentice Hall, 2006
Denton J. Dailey, Electronic Devices and
Circuits: Discrete and Integrated, Prentice
Hall, 2001