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Summary of Bipolar Transistors:

Bipolar transistor consists of two PN junctions, with two types: NPN and PNP

NPN Transistor has central p-type region sandwiched between two regions of n-type
material. In order to achieve thermal equilibrium a few electrons go from the n-type
silicon to the p-type silicon. This makes the p-region slightly negatively charge and raises
its valence and conduction bands; the n-type regions become lightly lower in energy. At
equilibrium, the chemical potential is constant, and the
N P N energies of the valence and conduction bands changes as a
function of position. Just as in the diode, the system can be
understood in terms of a dynamic equilibrium in which
electrons diffuse from the n-regions into the p-regions due to
the concentration gradient, and this diffusion is exactly
balanced by the drift that arises from the fact that there is an
electric field pushing electrons from the p-region back toward
the n-type region. At equilibrium these drift and diffusion
processes exactly balance.

In use, the transistor is connected to two different voltage sources. The voltage supplies
are connected so that one PN junction is forward-biased, and the other is reverse-biased,
as shown below. Here, the junction on the right is forward-biased and the junction on
the left is reverse-biased. The Fermi levels are no longer equal in the three regions, since
we are no longer at equilibrium.

At the junction that is forward-biased, there is a flow of electrons from the n-region into
the central p-region, just as in a regular forward-biased diode. The unique feature of a
transistor is that the central region is very thin. So, once the electron gets from the n-
region at right into the p-region, it has a significant probability of diffusing around until
the it sees the very strong electric field that exists between the p-region and the n-region
at left. So, by making the central region very thin, we get a net flow of electrons from the
“emitter” , through the “base” and into the “collector”.
The figures above show the flow of electrons. Most of the electron flow is from the
emitter to the collector, while because the base is very thin only a small fraction of the
electrons leave via the base connection. So, the base current is much smaller than the
emitter or collector current.

The ratio of currents leads to one of the most important parameters of a transistor, which
is its “current gain”, often referred to as its “Beta”.
I
β≡ C
IB
Typical transistors have betas between 10 and 100. Since the flow of currents is usually
defined as the flow of positive charge, the NPN transistor is more conventionally drawn
as:

where the positive current flows into the base, and most of the current flows from
collector from emitter. Since charge must be conserved, it is always true that:
I B + IC = I E
The tricky part about using transistors is that because the base-emitter junction must be
forward biased by ~ 0.6 V in order for the transistor to function properly, the voltages at
the emitter and collector must be adjusted via resistive voltage dividers in order to keep
the base at approximately the correct voltage for the transistor to function properly. In
many circuits, the most positive supply is simply called Vcc and the most negative power
supply is called VEE. These terms come from the standard biasing configuration of the
bipolar NPN transistor. Do not confuse the power supply Vcc with the voltage at the
collector, Vc. For some circuits they may be the same, but if there is a resistor between
the collector and the power supply they will be different !!

VCC
+

IC
C
IB B

E IE

VEE
Getting the biasing conditions correct is quite tricky. The resistors lower the input
impedance as well. We will not go into biasing conditions for transistor amplifiers, but
you should understand something about the most common amplifier configurations.

Common Emitter Amplifier:

This basic geometry is probably the most important amplifier configuration because it
forms the basis for almost all digital “TTL” (transistor-transistor logic”) electronics and is
commonly used to interface TTL logic with devices that draw more current. In the
common-emitter configuration, the emitter is common to the “input” and “outputs. Often
it is at ground (“zero”) potential, so that sometimes it isn’t very obvious.

Qualitatively, the common-emitter amplifier is an inverting voltage amplifer. When VB


is very small (say, less than ~0.6 V), then the base-emitter junction is not forward-biased
very much, so that currents are small. Effectively one can think of the resistor as having
a high resistance, and think of the problem much like a resistive voltage divider in which
the power supply (Vcc) is applied across the series resistance of RC and RT (the
transistor’s collector-to-emitter impedance), and the output voltage is measured at the
collector. Under these conditions the voltage at the collector is close to the power supply
voltage. So, when the input voltage at VB is small, the output voltage at VC is large.
As VB increases, the base-emitter junction becomes forward biased, and much more
current flows through the transistor. Once can think of the effect in two ways: First, you
can think o fit as in terms of the voltage divider problem, with the impedance of the
transistor RT decreasing as the base voltage is increased. An alternative way to think
about the problem is that if there is current through the collector resistor RC, then there
must be a larger voltage drop across it. Since one end is fixed to the power supply, this
means that the voltage at the other end (where it connects to the collector of the
transistor) must become more negative (or equivalently, less positive) as the base voltage
increases. The collector must always be more positive than the base, so that the smallest
the base voltage will ever become is approximately equal to the base voltage. Since a
forward-biased silicon diode typically has a maximum voltage of ~ 0.6 V across it, the
collector voltage will not go lower than ~0.6 V under any conditions. The exact value
will depend on the value of the collector resistor.

The common-emitter configuration is very important because the input and ouput are
exactly what you are directly exposed to in digital “TTL” logic, which forms the basis for
logic functions (AND, NOT, etc), timing devices (counters, clocks) and many other
devices. There are a couple other things that are very important to understand about this
configuration:
1) The transistor is turned “off” when the input voltage is much below ~0.6 V. As the
base voltage is raised above ~0.6 V, the transistor current increases rapidly and the output
voltage drops from ~ VCC to something close to ~ VB. In TTL (digital) logic, we will see
that most devices have input voltages and output voltages defined by two ranges, that
represent logical 0 and logical 1. Typically input voltages of less than ~0.6 V are
guaranteed to be digital “0” and voltages of greater than ~2 V are guaranteed to be digital
“1”. Effectively that means that input voltages of <0.6 V are guaranteed to keep the
transistor “off”, while voltages are >2.0 V are guaranteed to turn the transistor “on”.
Input voltages between ~0.6V and 2.0 V are not defined and are almost always to be
avoided. For output voltages, the transistor output is guaranteed to be <0.4 V when it is
logical 0 (which is the “on” state for the transistor) and to be >2.4 V when it is logical 1
(transistor in the “off” state).

Differential Amplifier:
This circuit is important because it is the circuit used at the input to bipolar op amps such
as the OP27’s that you are using in lab. It consists of two NPN transistor with two
matched pairs of resistors (R1 and R2) to make the two legs behave identically. A third
resistor R3 is added that is usually quite large in value (larger than R1 and R2); in
combination with the power supply it essentially establishes a constant current source so
that the total current through both transistors remains constant as the input voltages V-
and V+ change. The two inputs, in the case of an op-amp, would correspond to the
inverting and non-inverting inputs. More details of this configuration are in the textbook.
An important thing to note here is that the base currents are never exactly zero.
Consequently, bipolar op amps such as the OP27 do actually involve some current flow
into their inputs. For modern op amps these “input bias currents” are usually on the order
of 10 nanoamps. While small, this can not always be ignored.

Push-pull amplifier:
One problem with the common-emitter amplifier and the different amplifier is that
neither one can source much current. In the common-emitter amplifier any current
drawn by an external circuit must flow through the collector resistor, for capacitive
loads that creates an inherent RC time constant that slows the response, and for
resistive loads that produces heating in the amplifier since there is power dissipation
given by P=IR.

For high-power circuits, a common configuration is the “push-pull” amplifier below.


The push-pull uses one NPN transistor and one PNP transistor. Both NPN and PNP
transistors turn “on” when the base-emitter junction is forward-biased. For NPN, this
occurs when the base is ~0.6 V more positive than the emitter. For the PNP transistor,
this occurs when the base is ~0.6 V more negative than the emitter. For any input
voltage, only one of the output transistors will be “on”: When Vin >~0.6 V, the NPN
transistor will be turned on, the PNP transistor is turned off (its emitter-base junction
is reverse-biased) and the output voltage will go positive, pushing current into the
load. When Vin <-0.6 V, the the PNP transistor is turned on, the NPN transistor is
turned off (because its base-emitter junction is reverse-biased) and the output voltage
becomes negative, “pulling” current through the load. For input voltages between ~-
0.6 V and +0.6 V, neither transistor is turned on very much, and the output is
essentially “disconnected”, going rapidly to zero. This leads to something called
“crossover distortion, depicted on the next page.
There are ways of avoiding crossover distortion by adding additional resistors or diodes
to the circuit; essentially what they do is to make it so that when Vin is small, both
transistors are turned on by a small amount.

The push-pull amplifer is very commonly used as the last stage of amplifiers (including
op-amps) that are intended to provide a significant amount of current. The most common
example is in audio circuitry, where the final output stage needs to drive a low-
impedance device such as a speaker (typically 4 – 8 ohms impedance). In the lab, push-
pull amplifers are used to boost the output current

3) Common base configuration (often called a “pass-transistor” configuration).

This is often used in power supplies or other situations where you have need to be able to
drive a significant amount of current. It is simpler than the push-pull, but only goes in
one direction (i.e. as drawn here the input voltage Vin and the power supply VCC must
both be positive.

This “pass-transistor” configuration is often used in power supplies. As shown below, a


poorly-controlled power supply Vcc can be used with a resistor and a zener diode to
form a stable voltage source; however, this zener + resistor setup cannot source much
current. By connecting the zener diode to the base of a transistor, a much better situation
results. Now, the transistor will try to keep the base-emitter junction forward-biased by ~
0.6 V. Why this happens is not immediately obvious; however, you can reason it out by
remembering that as the base voltage becomes more positive, the transistor turns on, and
more current flows through the load; as more current flows through the load the voltage
drop (IR) across the load increases, which means that the voltage at the emitter must be
becoming more positive as well. Because the current gain (Beta) of the transistor is very
high, the emitter voltage tracks the base voltage, maintaining a constant difference:
Vemitter = Vbase – 0.6 V. Some times an additional resistor is added on the collector side
so that if the “load” becomes short-circuited the transistor will not have an unlimited
current flowing through it (which will kill the transistor).