A semiconductor device is a device that is made from material which is neither a good conductor nor a good insulator. Its conductivity is generally between that of a typical insulator and most metals, due either to the addition of an impurity or because of temperature effects. Semiconductors are widely popular in a wide variety of applications due to their reliability, compactness, and low cost.
At their core, a semiconductor device is simply an electronic component that exploits the electronic properties of semiconductor materials such silicon, germanium, and gallium arsenide, as well as other organic semiconductors. In many applications, semiconductor devices have replaced vacuum tubes, using electronic conduction in the solid state rather than the thermionic emission in a high vacuum. Semiconductor devices are used in both discrete devices and integrated circuits, which can consist of billions of tiny devices interconnected on a single semiconductor substrate or wafer.
Semiconductors are particularly useful because their behavior can be easily affected by the addition or subtraction of impurities. The process of manipulating the behavior of semiconductor material is known as doping. Examples of doping include control via an electric or magnetic field, exposure to light or heat, or the mechanical deformation of the crystalline grid. There are many types of semiconductors, but the two most common are diodes and transistors.
A diode is a semiconductor device made of a single positive-negative junction. The junction of the p-type and n-type semiconductor forms a depletion region where current conduction is hindered by the lack of mobile charge carriers. When the diode is forward-biased, this depletion region is reduced, allowing for significant conduction. When the diode is reverse-biased, the opposite occurs. The conductivity of a semiconductor can be increased by exposing it to light or heat. Exposure to either of these has the potential to produce electron hole pairs, increasing the number of charge carriers and therefore conductivity. Certain diodes, known as photodiodes, are designed specifically with the idea of taking advantage of this phenomenon. There are also certain compound semiconductor diodes that are used to generate light, such as light-emission diodes and laser diodes.
A transistor has three standard types: bipolar junction transistors, field-effect transistors, and metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET). A bipolar junction transistor is formed by two p-n junctions in either the p-n-p or n-p-n configuration. The area between the junctions, called the middle or base, is very narrow. The other parts of the transistor and their related terminals are known as the emitter and collector. A small current enters the junction between the base and emitter, changing the properties of the base junction allowing it to conduct current, despite being reverse-biased. In turn, this creates a larger current between the collector and emitter.
Field-effect transistors operate based on the principle that semiconductor conductivity is increased or decreased by the presence of electric or magnetic fields. The electrical field increases the number of electrons and holes in a semiconductor, thereby changing its conductivity. This electrical field can be applied by a reverse-biased p-n junction, forming a junction field-effect transistor, or by an electrode insulated from the material by an oxide layer, forming a metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET). The MOSFET transistor is a solid-state device and currently the most widely used transistor. The gate electrode is charged, producing an electric field that can control the conductivity of a channel between the source and drain terminals. Depending on the application, a MOSFET may be either n-channel or p-channel.
Aside from diodes and transistors, a wide array of semiconductor devices exist. Other two-terminal devices include PIN diodes, Light-emitting diodes (LED), photocells, solar cells, transient voltage suppression diodes, VCSEL, and more. Three-terminal devices include insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBT), thyristors, TRIACs, and many more. Silicon is the most commonly used material in semiconductor devices, due to its lor cost and simple design process. It also benefits from being operational at a wide temperature range, making it a good compromise among materials. Other common materials used for semiconductor devices include germanium and gallium arsenide. Germanium was more common in early semiconductors, while gallium arsenide is still being developed for wide use.
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