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EGE217: Electronics 1

Lecturer: Siti Hamimah Sh. Ismail


January 2009

ELECTRONICS 1

CHAPTER 1: FUNDAMENTAL OF
SEMICONDUCTOR DEVICES

Introduction

In this chapter you will learn basic about semiconductors: materials


that are neither conductors nor insulators. Semiconductors contain
some free electrons, but what really makes them unusual is the
presence of holes.

Objective

At the end of this chapter, you should be able to:


1 define the concept of semiconductor;
2 differentiate between n type and p type semiconductor;
3 explain the two types of flow; and
4 explain the effect of biasing the diode.

1.1 Conductors

Metals such as copper, silver, tin and aluminium which are


considered to be good conductors of electricity, are formed by the
mutual bonding of the parent atom. This bonding process is such that
the outer or valence electrons from each parent atom are released and
are free to move throughout the solid in response to applied electric
field. The remaining electrons and the nucleus of each parent atom
are not mobile but rather remain bound in a relatively fixed position
determined by the crystal lattice.

See figure for example on the atomic structure of copper.

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EGE217: Electronics 1
Lecturer: Siti Hamimah Sh. Ismail
January 2009

Figure 1

The core of a copper atom has a net charge of +1 because it contains


29 protons and 28 inner electrons. The valence (mobile) electrons is in
a large orbit around a core and has a net charge of only +1. Because
of this, the inward pull felt by the valence electron is very small.

Since the attraction between the core and the valence electron is very
weak, an outside force can easily dislodge this electron from the
copper atom. The slightest voltage causes the free electrons to flow
from one atom to the next.

1.1.1Semiconductors
The best conductors have one valence electron, whereas the best
insulators have eight valence electrons. A semiconductor is an element
with electrical properties between those of a conductor and those of
an insulator. Thus, the best semiconductors have four valence
electrons.

Germanium - an example of semiconductor which has four valence


electrons. Used to be a material that is suitable for
making semiconductor devices, but it has a fatal flaw that
cannot be overcome. So, silicon is used.

Silicon - An isolated atom has 14 protons and 14 electrons, as


shown in Figure 2. It has 4 valence electrons, thus it is a
semiconductor.

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EGE217: Electronics 1
Lecturer: Siti Hamimah Sh. Ismail
January 2009

Figure 2

1.2 Silicon Crystals


When silicon atoms combine to form a solid, they arrange themselves
into an orderly pattern called a crystal. Each silicon atom shares its
electrons with four neighboring atoms in such a way as to have eight
electrons in its valence orbit. See example in figure below.

Figure 3

1.2.1Covalent Bonds

Each neighboring atom shares an electron with the central atom. In


this way, the central atom has four additional electrons, giving it a
total of 8 electrons in the valence orbit. The electrons no longer belong
to any single atom. Each central atom and its neighbors share the
electrons.

In figure 4 we can see that each core has a charge of +4. The central
core and the one to its right attract the pair of electrons between them
with equal and opposite force. This pulling in opposite direction is
what holds the silicon atoms together.

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EGE217: Electronics 1
Lecturer: Siti Hamimah Sh. Ismail
January 2009

Figure 4

Since each shared electron is being pulled in opposite direction, the


electrons becomes a bond between the opposite cores. This type of
chemical bond is called a covalent bond.

1.2.2Valence Saturation
The valence orbit can hold no more than eight electrons, and it is said
to be saturated; no more electrons can fit into this orbit. The eight
electrons are called bound electrons because they are tightly held by
the atoms. Thus, a silicon crystal is almost perfect insulator at room
temperature.

Valence saturation: n = 8

1.2.3The Hole
When the ambient temperature (temperature of surrounding air) is
above absolute zero (-273°C), the heat energy in this air causes the
atoms in a silicon crystal to vibrate. The higher the ambient
temperature the stronger the mechanical vibrations become.

In a silicon crystal, the vibrations of the atom can occasionally


dislodge an electron from the valence orbit. The released electron
gains enough energy to go into the larger orbit. In this larger orbit the
electron is a free electron. The departure of electron creates a vacancy
in the valence orbit called a hole, which behaves like a positive charge.
(loss of electron produces a positive ion.) The hole will attract and
capture any electron in the immediate vicinity.

At room temperature, thermal energy produces only a few holes and


free electron, to increase them it is necessary to dope the crystal.

1.3 Intrinsic Semiconductors


An intrinsic semiconductor is a pure semiconductor. A silicon crystal
is an intrinsic semiconductor if every atom in the crystal is a silicon
atom.

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EGE217: Electronics 1
Lecturer: Siti Hamimah Sh. Ismail
January 2009

1.3.1Flow of Free Electrons


Figure below shows part of silicon crystal between charged metallic
plates.

Figure 5

Assume that the thermal energy has produced a free electron and a
hole. The free electron is in a large orbit at the right end of the crystal.
Because of the negatively charged plate, the free electron is repelled to
the left. This free electron can move from one large orbit to the next
until it reaches the positive plate.

1.3.2Flow of Holes

Notice the hole at the left of figure. This hole attracts the valance
electron at point A. This causes the valence electron to move into the
hole.

When the valence electron at point A moves to the left, it creates a


new hole at point A. It looks as if the hole is moving to the right.

1.4 Two types of Flow


Figure below shows an intrinsic semiconductor, which has the same
number of free electrons and holes.

Figure 6

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EGE217: Electronics 1
Lecturer: Siti Hamimah Sh. Ismail
January 2009
The applied voltage will force the free electrons to flow to the left and
the holes to the right. When the free electrons arrive at the left end of
the crystal, they enter the external wire and flow to the positive
battery terminal.

On the other hand, the free electrons at the negative terminal of the
battery will flow to the right end of the crystal and recombine with
holes that arrive at the right end of the crystal. Note that the holes
cannot flow outside the semiconductor. Free electrons and holes are
also called carriers, because they carry a charge from one place to
another.

1.5 Doping a Semiconductor


We can increase conductivity of a semiconductor by doping. A doped
semiconductor is also called an extrinsic semiconductor.

1.5.1Increasing the Free Electrons

A manufacturer doped a semiconductor by:


a. melting a pure semiconductor - (breaks the covalent bond
and changes the silicon from solid to liquid.)
b. Increase number of free electrons by adding pentavalent
atoms (atoms with five electrons in the valence orbit, e.g:
arsenic, antimony and phosphorus) to the molten silicon.

The pentavalent atoms used will donate an extra electron to the silicon
crystal, also referred to as donor impurities. The more impurity that is
added the greater the conductivity. See figure below.

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EGE217: Electronics 1
Lecturer: Siti Hamimah Sh. Ismail
January 2009
Figure 7

1.5.2Increasing the Number of Holes

To get an excess of holes; we use trivalent impurity; atoms with three


valence electrons. E.g: aluminium, boron and gallium. A trivalent
atom is also known as an acceptor atom.

See figure below.

Figure 8

1.6 Two types of Extrinsic Semiconductors


There are two types of doped semiconductors:

• N-Type semiconductor
• P-Type semiconductor

1.6.1N-Type Semiconductor

Silicon that has been doped with a pentavelent impurity is called an


N-Type Semiconductor, N stands for negative.

Free electrons are called majority carriers and the holes are minority
carriers.

See figure below:

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EGE217: Electronics 1
Lecturer: Siti Hamimah Sh. Ismail
January 2009

Figure 9

Because of the applied voltage, the free electrons move to the left and
the holes move to the right. When a hole arrives at the right end of the
crystal, one of the free electrons from the external circuits enters the
semiconductor and recombines with the hole.

1.6.2P-Type Semiconductor

Silicon that has been doped with a trivalent impurity is called a P-


Type semiconductor, where P stand for positive.

Holes are the majority carriers and electrons are the minority carriers.
See figure below:

Figure 10

The free electrons move to the left and the holes move to the right. The
holes arriving at the right end of the circuit will recombine with free
electrons from the external circuit. Because there are so few minority
carriers, they have almost no effect in the circuit.

1.7 The Unbiased Diode

We have already known that each trivalent atom produces a hole.


Thus, the P type semiconductor can be visualized as below:

Figure 11

Each circle minus sign is the trivalent atom and each plus sign is the
hole in its valence orbit.

Similarly, for N type:

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EGE217: Electronics 1
Lecturer: Siti Hamimah Sh. Ismail
January 2009

Figure 12

Notice that each piece of semiconductor material is electrically neutral


(number of positive and negative is equal).

The P-Type and N-Type semiconductor can also be combined. The


border between P-Type and N-Type is called the pn junction. The pn
junctions has led to all kinds of inventions including diodes,
transistors and integrated circuits. See figure below:

Figure 13

1.7.1The Depletion Layer

The free electrons in N-Type side, tend to diffuse in all directions,


some of the free electrons diffuse across the junction. When a free
electron enters the p region, it becomes a minority carrier. With so
many holes around it, the minority carrier will fall into a hole. The
hole will then disappears and the free electron becomes a valence
electron.

Each time an electron diffuses across the junction, it creates a pair of


ions. When an electron leaves the n side, it leaves behind a
pentavalent atom that is short one negative charge; this pentavalent
atom becomes a positive ion. After the migrating electron falls into a
hole on the p side, it makes the negative ion out of the trivalent atom
that captures it.

Figure below shows these ions on each sides of the junction. The
circled plus signs are positive ions and the circle minus are negative
ions. The ions are fixed in the crystal structure because of covalent
bonding, and they cannot move around like free electrons and holes.

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EGE217: Electronics 1
Lecturer: Siti Hamimah Sh. Ismail
January 2009

Figure 14

Each pair of positive and negative ions at the junction is called a


dipole. The creation of a dipole means that one free electron and the
hole have been taken out of circulation. As the number of dipoles
builds up, the region near the junction is emptied of carriers, and this
charge-empty region is called the depletion layer.

1.7.2Barrier Potential
Each dipole has an electric field between the positive and negative
ions. If additional free electrons enter the depletion region, the electric
field tries to push these electrons back into the n region. When it
reach equilibrium state, the electric field stops the diffusion of
electrons across the junction.

The electric field between the ions is equivalent to a difference of


potential called the barrier potential. At 25°C, the barrier potential for
germanium is 0.3V and for silicon 0.7V.

1.8 Forward Bias

To produce forward bias:


• Negative source terminal is connected to the N type material
and
• the positive terminal is connected to the P type material.

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EGE217: Electronics 1
Lecturer: Siti Hamimah Sh. Ismail
January 2009
Figure 15

1.8.1Flow of Free Electrons

In figure above, the battery pushes holes and free electrons toward the
junction. If the battery voltage is less than the barrier potential, the
free electrons do not have enough energy to get through the depletion
layer. When they enter the depletion layer , the ions will push them
back to the n region, so there is no current through the diode.

When the dc source is greater than the barrier potential, the battery
pushes electrons and holes towards the junction. This time, the free
electrons have enough energy to pass through the depletion layer and
recombine with the holes. Since free electrons continuously enter the
right end of the diode and holes are being continuously created at the
left end, there is a continuous current through the diode.

Note: Current flows easily in a forward biased diode, as long as the


applied voltage is greater than the barrier potential.

1.9 Reverse Bias

To produce reverse bias:


• Negative battery terminal is connected to the p side and
• Positive battery terminal is connected to the n side.

Figure 16

1.9.1Depletion Layer Widens

The negative battery terminal attracts the holes and the positive
battery terminal attracts the free electrons. Because of this, holes and
free electrons flow away from the junction. Therefore the depletion
layer gets wider and the difference of potential is greater. The
depletion layer stops growing when its difference of potential equals
the applied reverse voltage.

1.9.2Minority Carrier Current


Is there any current after the depletion layer stabilizes? Yes, a small
current exist with reverse bias. Recall that thermal energy

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EGE217: Electronics 1
Lecturer: Siti Hamimah Sh. Ismail
January 2009
continuously creates pairs of free electrons and holes. This means
that a few minority carriers exist on both sides of the junction. Most of
these recombine with the majority carriers. But those inside the
depletion region may exist long enough to get across the junction.
When this happens, a small current flows in the external circuits.

See figure below:

Figure 17

Assume that thermal energy has created a free electron and hole near
the junction. The depletion layer pushes the free electron to the right
forcing one electron to leave the right end of the crystal. The hole in
the depletion layer is pushed to the left. This extra hole on the p side
lets one electron enter the left end of the crystal and fall into a hole.
Since thermal energy continuously produced electron-hole pairs
inside the depletion layer, a small continuous current flows in the
external circuit.

The reverse current caused by the thermally produced minority


carriers is called the saturation current, Is. Increasing the reverse
voltage will not increase the number of thermally created minority
carriers.

1.9.3Avalanche Effect
There is a limit to how much reverse voltage a diode can withstand
before it is destroyed. It is called the breakdown voltage of the diode.
There are a large number of minority carriers appears in the depletion
layer when the breakdown voltage is reached. The carriers are
produced by the avalanche effect which occurs at higher reverse
voltage. See figure below:

Figure 18

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EGE217: Electronics 1
Lecturer: Siti Hamimah Sh. Ismail
January 2009
Reverse voltage increase: minority carriers move more quickly and
collide with atoms of the crystal, knock valence electrons loose,
producing free electrons.

1 electron collides with 1 electron produces 2 electrons.


2 electrons collide with 2 electrons produces 4 electrons.
4 electrons collide with 4 electron produces 8 electrons.

Process continues until the reverse current is huge.

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EGE217: Electronics 1
Lecturer: Siti Hamimah Sh. Ismail
January 2009
Tutorial 1
1. Explain how to produce reverse bias diode and forward biased
diode, and;

a) describe the flow of electron for each type of bias.


b) Explain what happened to the depletion layer during
reverse bias.

2. Explain Avalanche effect.

3. What are the two types of extrinsic semiconductor?

4. What is the minority carrier current? Can we increase the number


of thermally created minority carriers by increasing the reverse
voltage?

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