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Electronics >> Basics of Electronics >> Semiconductors

What is a Semiconductor Device?semiconductors

A device made with semi-conducting material is called a semiconductor device.

Semiconductors are made up of a substance with electrical properties intermediate between a good conductor and a good insulator. A semiconductor device conducts electricity poorly at room temperature, but has increasing conductivity at higher temperatures.

Metalloids are usually good semiconductors.

Material, such as germanium, gallium arsenide and silicon are some of the good semiconductor substances.

How Semiconductor Works?

In order to understand how semiconductor devices work one needs a more complete description of the nature of charge in the real world. Charge does not exist independently; it is carried by subatomic particles.

For this discussion we will be understand electrons, that carry negative charge of 1.6 ◊ 10-19 C , the minimum amount of charge that can exist in isolation.

Structure of an Atom

Electrons are one component of atoms and molecules. Atoms are the building blocks out of which all matter is constructed.

Atoms bond with each other to form substances. Substances composed of just one type of atom are called elements.

For example, copper, gold and silver are all elements; that is, each of them consists of only one type of atom.

More complex substances are made up of more than one atom and are known as compounds.

Water, which has both hydrogen and oxygen atoms, is such a compound. The smallest unit of a compound is a molecule. A water molecule, for example, contains two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

Atoms themselves are made up of even smaller components: protons, neutrons and electrons.

Protons and neutrons form the nucleus of an atom, while the electrons orbit the nucleus. Protons carry positive charge and electrons carry negative charge; the magnitude of the charge for both particles is the same, one quantum charge, 1.6 ◊10-19 C . Neutrons are not charged.

Normally, atoms have the same number of protons and electrons and have no net electrical charge.

Electron and Electricity

Electrons that are far from the nucleus are relatively free to move around under the influence of external fields because the force of attraction from the positive charge in the nucleus is weak at large distances. In fact, it takes little force in many cases to completely remove an outer electron from an atom, leaving an ion with a net positive charge.

Once free, electrons can move at speeds approaching the speed of light (roughly 670 million miles per hour) through metals, gases and vacuum. They can also become attached to another atom, forming an ion with net negative charge.

Structure of an Atom
Fig - 1 : Structure of an Atom

Simple Model of Electron Flow
Fig - 2 : Simple Model of Electron Flow

Electric current in metal conductors consists of a flow of free electrons. Because electrons have negative charge, the flow of electrons is in a direction opposite to the positive current. Free electrons traveling through a conductor drift until they hit other electrons attached to atoms. These electrons are then dislodged from their orbits and replaced by the formerly free electrons. The newly freed electrons then start the process anew.

At the microscopic level, electron flow through a conductor is not a steady stream, like water flowing from a faucet, but rather a series of short bursts.

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