If we join a section of N-type semiconductor material with a similar section of P-type semiconductor material, we obtain a device known as a PN JUNCTION. (The area where the N and P regions meet is appropriately called the junction.)

The usual characteristics of this device make it extremely useful in electronics as a diode rectifier. The diode rectifier or PN junction diode performs the same function as its counterpart in electron tubes but in a different way.

The diode is nothing more than a two-element semiconductor device that makes use of the rectifying properties of a PN junction to convert alternating current into direct current by permitting current flow in only one direction. The schematic symbol of a PN junction diode is shown in the first illustration.

The PN junction diode

The PN junction diode.

The vertical bar represents the cathode (N-type material) since it is the source of electrons and the arrow represents the anode. (P-type material) since it is the destination of the electrons.

The label "CR1" is an alphanumerical code used to identify the diode. In this first illustration, we have only one diode so it is labeled CR1 (crystal rectifier number one). If there were four diodes shown in the diagram, the last diode would be labeled CR4.

The heavy dark line shows electron flow. Notice it is against the arrow. For further clarification, a pictorial diagram of a PN junction and an actual semiconductor (one of many types) are also illustrated.


Merely pressing together a section of P material and a section of N material, however, is not sufficient to produce a rectifying junction.

The semiconductor should be in one piece to form a proper PN junction, but divided into a P-type impurity region and an N-type impurity region.

This can be done in various ways. One way is to mix P-type and N-type impurities into a single crystal during the manufacturing process. By so doing, a P-region is grown over part of a semiconductor’s length and N region is grown over the other part. This is called a GROWN junction and is illustrated in view A of the illustration below.

Grown and fused PN junctions from which bars are cut

Grown and fused PN junctions from which bars are cut.

Another way to produce a PN junction is to melt one type of impurity into a semiconductor of the opposite type impurity.

For example, a pellet of acceptor impurity is placed on a wafer of N-type germanium and heated. Under controlled temperature conditions, the acceptor impurity fuses into the wafer to form a P-region within it, as shown in view B of the illustration.

This type of junction is known as an ALLOY or FUSED-ALLOY junction, and is one of the most commonly used junctions.

In the third illustration, a POINT-CONTACT type of construction is shown.

point contact type of diode construction

Point contact type of diode construction.

It consists of a fine metal wire, called a cat whisker, that makes contact with a small area on the surface of an N-type semiconductor as shown in view A of the illustration above.

The PN union is formed in this process by momentarily applying a high-surge current to the wire and the N-type semiconductor.

The heat generated by this current converts the material nearest the point of contact to a P-type material as shown in the last illustration.

point contact type of diode construction

Point contact type of diode construction.

Still another process is to heat a section of semiconductor material to near melting and then diffuse impurity atoms into a surface layer.

Regardless of the process, the objective is to have a perfect bond everywhere along the union (interface) between P and N materials.

Proper contact along the union is important because, as we will see later, the union (junction or interface) is the rectifying agent in the diode.

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