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A semiconductor is a material that has an electrical conductivity between that of a conductor and an insulator, that is, generally in the range 103 Siemens per centimeter to 10âˆ’8 S/cm. Devices made from semiconductor materials are the foundation of modern electronics, including radio, computers, telephones, and many other devices.
Semiconductor devices are electronic components that exploit the electronic properties of semiconductor materials, principally silicon, germanium, and gallium arsenide. Semiconductor devices have replaced thermionic devices (vacuum tubes) in most applications. They use electronic conduction in the solid state as oppose to the gaseous state or thermionic emission in a high vacuum.
The diode is a device made from a single p-n junction. At the junction of a p-type and an n-type semiconductor there forms a region called the depletion zone which blocks current conduction from the n-type region to the p-type region, but allows current to conduct from the p-type region to the n-type region. Thus when the device is forward biased, with the p-side at higher electric potential, the diode conducts current easily; but the current is very small when the diode is reverse biased. Exposing a semiconductor to light can generate electron-hole pairs, which increases the number of free carriers and its conductivity. Diodes optimized to take advantage of this phenomenon are known as photodiodes. Compound semiconductor diodes can also be used to generate light, as in light-emitting diodes and laser diodes.
Semiconductor device materials:
By far, silicon (Si) is the most widely used material in semiconductor devices. Its combination of low raw material cost, relatively simple processing, and a useful temperature range make it currently the best compromise among the various competing materials. Silicon used in semiconductor device manufacturing is currently fabricated into boules that are large enough in diameter to allow the production of 300 mm (12 in.) wafers.
Germanium (Ge) was a widely used early semiconductor material but its thermal sensitivity makes it less useful than silicon. Today, germanium is often alloyed with silicon for use in very-high-speed SiGe devices; IBM is a major producer of such devices.
Gallium arsenide (GaAs) is also widely used in high-speed devices but so far, it has been difficult to form large-diameter boules of this material, limiting the wafer diameter to sizes significantly smaller than silicon wafers thus making mass production of GaAs devices significantly more expensive than silicon.
Other less common materials are also in use or under investigation.
Silicon carbide (SiC) has found some application as the raw material for blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and is being investigated for use in semiconductor devices that could withstand very high operating temperatures and environments with the presence of significant levels of ionizing radiation. IMPATT diodes have also been fabricated from SiC.
Various indium compounds (indium arsenide, indium antimonide, and indium phosphide) are also being used in LEDs and solid state laser diodes. Selenium sulfide is being studied in the manufacture of photovoltaic solar cells.
List of common semiconductor devices:
Avalanche diode (avalanche breakdown diode)
Diode (rectifier diode)
Light-emitting diode (LED)
AÂ transistorÂ is aÂ semiconductor deviceÂ commonly used toÂ amplifyÂ or switchÂ electronicÂ signals. A transistor is made of a solid piece of aÂ semiconductorÂ material, with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals changes the current flowing through another pair of terminals. Because the controlled (output)Â powerÂ can be much more than the controlling (input) power, the transistor providesÂ amplificationÂ of a signal. Some transistors are packaged individually but most are found inÂ integrated circuits.
The transistor is the fundamental building block of modernÂ electronic devices, and its presence is ubiquitous in modern electronic systems.
1 Explaining semiconductor energy bands
2 Energy bands and electrical conduction
3 Holes: electron absence as a charge carrier
4 Energy-momentum dispersion
5 Carrier generation and recombination
7.2 Carrier concentration
7.3 Effect on band structure
8 Preparation of semiconductor materials
9 See also
11 External links
Explaining semiconductor energy bands
There are three popular ways to classify the electronic structure of a crystal.
For more details on this topic, see Electronic band structure.
atoms - crystal - vacuum
In a single H-atom an electron resides in well known orbits. Note that the orbits are called s,p,d in order of increasing circular current.
Putting two atoms together leads to delocalized orbits across two atoms, yielding a covalent bond. Due to the Pauli exclusion principle, every state can contain only one electron.
This can be continued with more atoms. Note: This picture shows a metal, not an actual semiconductor.
Continuing to add creates a crystal, which may then be cut into a tape and fused together at the ends to allow circular currents.
For this regular solid the band structure can be calculated or measured.
Integrating over the k axis gives the bands of a semiconductor showing a full valence band and an empty conduction band. Generally stopping at the vacuum level is undesirable, because some people want to calculate: photoemission, inverse photoemission
After the band structure is determined states can be combined to generate wave packets. As this is analogous to wave packages in free space, the results are similar.
An alternative description, which does not really appreciate the strong Coulomb interaction, shoots free electrons into the crystal and looks at the scattering.
A third alternative description uses strongly localized unpaired electrons in chemical bonds, which looks almost like a Mott insulator.
Energy bands and electrical conduction
The electrons in semiconductors can have energies only within certain bands (i.e. ranges of levels of energy) between the energy of
the ground state, corresponding to electrons tightly bound to the atomic nuclei of the material, and the free electron energy,
which is the energy required for an electron to escape entirely from the material. The energy bands each correspond to a large
number of discrete quantum states of the electrons, and most of the states with low energy (closer to the nucleus) are full, up
to a particular band called the valence band. Semiconductors and insulators are distinguished from metals because the valence band
in the semiconductor materials is nearly filled under usual operating conditions, thus causing more electrons to be available in
the "conduction band," which is the band immediately above the valence band.
The ease with which electrons in a semiconductor can be excited from the valence band to the conduction band depends on the band gap between the bands, and it is the size of this energy bandgap that serves as an arbitrary dividing line (roughly 4 eV) between semiconductors and insulators.
In the picture of covalent bonds, an electron moves by hopping to a neighboring bond. Because of the Pauli exclusion principle it has to be lifted into the higher anti-bonding state of that bond. In the picture of delocalized states, for example in one dimension - that is in a nanowire, for every energy there is a state with electrons flowing in one direction and one state for the electrons flowing in the other. For a net current to flow some more states for one direction than for the other direction have to be occupied and for this energy is needed, in the semiconductor the next higher states lie above the band gap. Often this is stated as: full bands do not contribute to the electrical conductivity. However, as the temperature of a semiconductor rises above absolute zero, there is more energy in the semiconductor to spend on lattice vibration and - more importantly for us - on lifting some electrons into an energy states of the conduction band. The current-carrying electrons in the conduction band are known as "free electrons", although they are often simply called "electrons" if context allows this usage to be clear.
Electrons excited to the conduction band also leave behind electron holes, or unoccupied states in the valence band. Both the conduction band electrons and the valence band holes contribute to electrical conductivity. The holes themselves don't actually move, but a neighboring electron can move to fill the hole, leaving a hole at the place it has just come from, and in this way the holes appear to move, and the holes behave as if they were actual positively charged particles.
One covalent bond between neighboring atoms in the solid is ten times stronger than the binding of the single electron to the atom, so freeing the electron does not imply destruction of the crystal structure.
Holes: electron absence as a charge carrier
The motion of holes, which was introduced for semiconductors, can also be applied to metals, where the Fermi level lies within the conduction band. With most metals the Hall effect reveals electrons to be the charge carriers, but some metals have a mostly filled conduction band, and the Hall effect reveals positive charge carriers, which are not the ion-cores, but holes. Contrast this to some conductors like solutions of salts, or plasma. In the case of a metal, only a small amount of energy is needed for the electrons to find other unoccupied states to move into, and hence for current to flow. Sometimes even in this case it may be said that a hole was left behind, to explain why the electron does not fall back to lower energies: It cannot find a hole. In the end in both materials electron-phonon scattering and defects are the dominant causes for resistance.
Fermi-Dirac distribution. States with energy Îµ below the Fermi energy, here Âµ, have higher probability n to be occupied, and those above are less likely to be occupied. Smearing of the distribution increases with temperature.
The energy distribution of the electrons determines which of the states are filled and which are empty. This distribution is described by Fermi-Dirac statistics. The distribution is characterized by the temperature of the electrons, and the Fermi energy or Fermi level. Under absolute zero conditions the Fermi energy can be thought of as the energy up to which available electron states are occupied. At higher temperatures, the Fermi energy is the energy at which the probability of a state being occupied has fallen to 0.5.
The dependence of the electron energy distribution on temperature also explains why the conductivity of a semiconductor has a strong temperature dependency, as a semiconductor operating at lower temperatures will have fewer available free electrons and holes able to do the work.
In the preceding description an important fact is ignored for the sake of simplicity: the dispersion of the energy. The reason that the energies of the states are broadened into a band is that the energy depends on the value of the wave vector, or k-vector, of the electron. The k-vector, in quantum mechanics, is the representation of the momentum of a particle.
The dispersion relationship determines the effective mass, m*, of electrons or holes in the semiconductor, according to the formula:
The effective mass is important as it affects many of the electrical properties of the semiconductor, such as the electron or hole mobility, which in turn influences the diffusivity of the charge carriers and the electrical conductivity of the semiconductor.
Typically the effective mass of electrons and holes are different. This affects the relative performance of p-channel and n-channel IGFETs.
The top of the valence band and the bottom of the conduction band might not occur at that same value of k. Materials with this situation, such as silicon and germanium, are known as indirect bandgap materials. Materials in which the band extrema are aligned in k, for example gallium arsenide, are called direct bandgap semiconductors. Direct gap semiconductors are particularly important in optoelectronics because they are much more efficient as light emitters than indirect gap materials.
Carrier generation and recombination
When ionizing radiation strikes a semiconductor, it may excite an electron out of its energy level and consequently leave a hole. This process is known as electron-hole pair generation. Electron-hole pairs are constantly generated from thermal energy as well, in the absence of any external energy source.
Electron-hole pairs are also apt to recombine. Conservation of energy demands that these recombination events, in which an electron loses an amount of energy larger than the band gap, be accompanied by the emission of thermal energy (in the form of phonons) or radiation (in the form of photons).
In some states, the generation and recombination of electron-hole pairs are in equipoise. The number of electron-hole pairs in the steady state at a given temperature is determined by quantum statistical mechanics. The precise quantum mechanical mechanisms of generation and recombination are governed by conservation of energy and conservation of momentum.
As the probability that electrons and holes meet together is proportional to the product of their amounts, the product is in steady state nearly constant at a given temperature, providing that there is no significant electric field (which might "flush" carriers of both types, or move them from neighbour regions containing more of them to meet together) or externally driven pair generation. The product is a function of the temperature, as the probability of getting enough thermal energy to produce a pair increases with temperature, being approximately exp(âˆ’EG/kT), where k is Boltzmann's constant, T is absolute temperature and EG is band gap.
The probability of meeting is increased by carrier traps-impurities or dislocations which can trap an electron or hole and hold it until a pair is completed. Such carrier traps are sometimes purposely added to reduce the time needed to reach the steady state.
Some materials are classified as semi-insulators. These have electrical conductivity nearer to that of electrical insulators. Semi-insulators find niche applications in micro-electronics, such as substrates for HEMT. An example of a common semi-insulator is gallium arsenide.
The property of semiconductors that makes them most useful for constructing electronic devices is that their conductivity may easily be modified by introducing impurities into their crystal lattice. The process of adding controlled impurities to a semiconductor is known as doping. The amount of impurity, or dopant, added to an intrinsic (pure) semiconductor varies its level of conductivity. Doped semiconductors are often referred to as extrinsic. By adding impurity to pure semiconductors, the electrical conductivity may be varied not only by the number of impurity atoms but also, by the type of impurity atom and the changes may be thousand folds and million folds. For example, 1Â cm3 of a metal or semiconductor specimen has a number of atoms on the order of 1022. Since every atom in metal donates at least one free electron for conduction in metal, 1Â cm3 of metal contains free electrons on the order of 1022. At the temperature close to 20 Â°C , 1Â cm3 of pure germanium contains about 4.2Ã-1022 atoms and 2.5Ã-1013 free electrons and 2.5Ã-1013 holes (empty spaces in crystal lattice having positive charge) The addition of 0.001% of arsenic (an impurity) donates an extra 1017 free electrons in the same volume and the electrical conductivity increases about 10,000 times."
The materials chosen as suitable dopants depend on the atomic properties of both the dopant and the material to be doped. In general, dopants that produce the desired controlled changes are classified as either electron acceptors or donors. A donor atom that activates (that is, becomes incorporated into the crystal lattice) donates weakly-bound valence electrons to the material, creating excess negative charge carriers. These weakly-bound electrons can move about in the crystal lattice relatively freely and can facilitate conduction in the presence of an electric field. (The donor atoms introduce some states under, but very close to the conduction band edge. Electrons at these states can be easily excited to the conduction band, becoming free electrons, at room temperature.) Conversely, an activated acceptor produces a hole. Semiconductors doped with donor impurities are called n-type, while those doped with acceptor impurities are known as p-type. The n and p type designations indicate which charge carrier acts as the material's majority carrier. The opposite carrier is called the minority carrier, which exists due to thermal excitation at a much lower concentration compared to the majority carrier.
For example, the pure semiconductor silicon has four valence electrons. In silicon, the most common dopants are IUPAC group 13 (commonly known as group III) and group 15 (commonly known as group V) elements. Group 13 elements all contain three valence electrons, causing them to function as acceptors when used to dope silicon. Group 15 elements have five valence electrons, which allows them to act as a donor. Therefore, a silicon crystal doped with boron creates a p-type semiconductor whereas one doped with phosphorus results in an n-type material.
The concentration of dopant introduced to an intrinsic semiconductor determines its concentration and indirectly affects many of its electrical properties. The most important factor that doping directly affects is the material's carrier concentration. In an intrinsic semiconductor under thermal equilibrium, the concentration of electrons and holes is equivalent. That is,
If we have a non-intrinsic semiconductor in thermal equilibrium the relation becomes:
where n0 is the concentration of conducting electrons, p0 is the electron hole concentration, and ni is the material's intrinsic carrier concentration. Intrinsic carrier concentration varies between materials and is dependent on temperature. Silicon's ni, for example, is roughly 1.5Ã-1010 cmâˆ’3 at 300 kelvins (room temperature).
In general, an increase in doping concentration affords an increase in conductivity due to the higher concentration of carriers available for conduction. Degenerately (very highly) doped semiconductors have conductivity levels comparable to metals and are often used in modern integrated circuits as a replacement for metal. Often superscript plus and minus symbols are used to denote relative doping concentration in semiconductors. For example, n+ denotes an n-type semiconductor with a high, often degenerate, doping concentration. Similarly, p- would indicate a very lightly doped p-type material. It is useful to note that even degenerate levels of doping imply low concentrations of impurities with respect to the base semiconductor. In crystalline intrinsic silicon, there are approximately 5Ã-1022 atoms/cmÂ³. Doping concentration for silicon semiconductors may range anywhere from 1013 cmâˆ’3 to 1018 cmâˆ’3. Doping concentration above about 1018 cmâˆ’3 is considered degenerate at room temperature. Degenerately doped silicon contains a proportion of impurity to silicon in the order of parts per thousand. This proportion may be reduced to parts per billion in very lightly doped silicon. Typical concentration values fall somewhere in this range and are tailored to produce the desired properties in the device that the semiconductor is intended for.
Effect on band structure
Band diagram of PN junction operation in forward bias mode showing reducing depletion width. Both p and n junctions are doped at a 1e15/cm3 doping level, leading to built-in potential of ~0.59V. Reducing depletion width can be inferred from the shrinking charge profile, as fewer dopants are exposed with increasing forward bias .
Doping a semiconductor crystal introduces allowed energy states within the band gap but very close to the energy band that corresponds to the dopant type. In other words, donor impurities create states near the conduction band while acceptors create states near the valence band. The gap between these energy states and the nearest energy band is usually referred to as dopant-site bonding energy or EB and is relatively small. For example, the EB for boron in silicon bulk is 0.045 eV, compared with silicon's band gap of about 1.12 eV. Because EB is so small, it takes little energy to ionize the dopant atoms and create free carriers in the conduction or valence bands. Usually the thermal energy available at room temperature is sufficient to ionize most of the dopant.
Dopants also have the important effect of shifting the material's Fermi level towards the energy band that corresponds with the dopant with the greatest concentration. Since the Fermi level must remain constant in a system in thermodynamic equilibrium, stacking layers of materials with different properties leads to many useful electrical properties. For example, the p-n junction's properties are due to the energy band bending that happens as a result of lining up the Fermi levels in contacting regions of p-type and n-type material.
This effect is shown in a band diagram. The band diagram typically indicates the variation in the valence band and conduction band edges versus some spatial dimension, often denoted x. The Fermi energy is also usually indicated in the diagram. Sometimes the intrinsic Fermi energy, Ei, which is the Fermi level in the absence of doping, is shown. These diagrams are useful in explaining the operation of many kinds of semiconductor devices.
Preparation of semiconductor materials
Semiconductors with predictable, reliable electronic properties are necessary for mass production. The level of chemical purity needed is extremely high because the presence of impurities even in very small proportions can have large effects on the properties of the material. A high degree of crystalline perfection is also required, since faults in crystal structure (such as dislocations, twins, and stacking faults) interfere with the semiconducting properties of the material. Crystalline faults are a major cause of defective semiconductor devices. The larger the crystal, the more difficult it is to achieve the necessary perfection. Current mass production processes use crystal ingots between 100Â mm and 300Â mm (4-12Â inches) in diameter which are grown as cylinders and sliced into wafers.
Because of the required level of chemical purity and the perfection of the crystal structure which are needed to make semiconductor devices, special methods have been developed to produce the initial semiconductor material. A technique for achieving high purity includes growing the crystal using the Czochralski process. An additional step that can be used to further increase purity is known as zone refining. In zone refining, part of a solid crystal is melted. The impurities tend to concentrate in the melted region, while the desired material recrystalizes leaving the solid material more pure and with fewer crystalline faults.
In manufacturing semiconductor devices involving heterojunctions between different semiconductor materials, the lattice constant, which is the length of the repeating element of the crystal structure, is important for determining the compatibility of materials.
Electronic band structure
Semiconductor device fabrication
List of semiconductor materials
In the previous paragraphs, we mentioned just a few of the many different applications of semiconductor devices. The use of these devices has become so widespread that it would be impossible to list all their different applications. Instead, a broad coverage of their specific application is presented.
Semiconductor devices are all around us. They can be found in just about every commercial product we touch, from the family car to the pocket calculator. Semiconductor devices are contained in television sets, portable radios, stereo equipment, and much more.
Science and industry also rely heavily on semiconductor devices. Research laboratories use these devices in all sorts of electronic instruments to perform tests, measurements, and numerous other experimental tasks. Industrial control systems (such as those used to manufacture automobiles) and automatic telephone exchanges also use semiconductors. Even today heavy-duty versions of the solid-state rectifier diode are being use to convert large amounts of power for electric railroads. Of the many different applications for solid-state devices, space systems, computers, and data processing equipment are some of the largest consumers.
The various types of modem military equipment are literally loaded with semiconductor devices. Many radars, communication, and airborne equipment are transistorized. Data display systems, data processing units, computers, and aircraft guidance-control assemblies are also good examples of electronic equipments that use semiconductor devices. All of the specific applications of semiconductor devices would make a long impressive list. The fact is, semiconductors are being used extensively in commercial products, industry, and the military.