Semiconductors (diodes) have electrical properties somewhere between those of insulators and conductors. The use of semiconductor materials in electronic components is not new; some devices are as old as the electron tube.
Two of the most widely known semiconductors in use today are the JUNCTION DIODE and TRANSISTOR. These semiconductors fall under a more general heading called solid-state devices.
A SOLID-STATE DEVICE is nothing more than an electronic device, which operates by virtue of the movement of electrons within a solid piece of semiconductor material.
Since the invention of the transistor, solid-state devices have been developed and improved at an unbelievable rate. Great strides have been made in the manufacturing techniques, and there is no foreseeable limit to the future of these devices.
Solid-state devices made from semiconductor materials offer compactness, efficiency, ruggedness, and versatility.
Consequently, these devices have invaded virtually every field of science and industry. In addition to the junction diode and transistor, a whole new family of related devices has been developed: the ZENER DIODE, LIGHT-EMITTING DIODE, FIELD EFFECT TRANSISTOR, etc.
One development that has dominated solid-state technology, and probably has had a greater impact on the electronics industry than either the electron tube or transistor, is the INTEGRATED CIRCUIT.
The integrated circuit is a minute piece of semiconductor material that can produce complete electronic circuit functions. As the applications of solid-state devices mount, the need for knowledge of these devices becomes increasingly important. You will need to understand solid-state devices if you are to become proficient in the repair and maintenance of electronic equipment. Therefore, the objective in this area of study is to provide a broad coverage of semiconductor devices. We will begin with some background information on the development of the semiconductor. We will then proceed to the semiconductor diode, how it functions, different types of diodes and their applications.
But first, here is some history on the development of the semiconductor.
SEMICONDUCTOR DEVELOPMENT Although the semiconductor was late in reaching its present development, its story began long before the electron tube.
Historically, we can go as far back as 1883 when Michael Faraday discovered that silver sulfide, a semiconductor, has a negative temperature coefficient. The term negative temperature coefficient is just another way of saying its resistance to electrical current flow decreases as temperature increases.
The opposite is true of the conductor. It has a positive temperature coefficient. Because of thispa rticular characteristic, semiconductors are used extensively in power-measuring equipment.
Only 2 years later, another valuable characteristic was reported by Munk A. Rosenshold. He found that certain materials have rectifying properties. Strange as it may seem, his finding was given such little notice that it had to be rediscovered 39 years later by F. Braun.
Toward the close of the 19th century, experimenters began to notice the peculiar characteristics of the chemical element SELENIUM. They discovered that in addition to its rectifying properties (the ability to convert ac into dc), selenium was also light sensitive-its resistance decreased with an increase in light intensity.
This discovery eventually led to the invention of the photophone by Alexander Graham Bell. The photophone, which converted variations of light into sound, was a predecessor of the radio receiver; however, it wasn’t until the actual birth of radio that selenium was used to any extent.
Today, selenium is an important and widely used semiconductor. Many other materials were tried and tested for use in communications. SILICON was found to be the most stable of the materials tested while GALENA, a crystalline form of lead sulfide, was found the most sensitive for use in early radio receivers.
By 1915, Carl Beredicks discovered that GERMANIUM, another metallic element, also had rectifying capabilities. Later, it became widely used in electronics for low-power, low-frequency applications.
Although the semiconductor was known long before the electron tube was invented, the semiconductor devices of that time could not match the performance of the tube. Radio needed a device that could not only handle power and amplify but rectify and detect a signal as well. Since tubes could do all these things, whereas semiconductor devices of that day could not, the semiconductor soon lost out.
It wasn’t until the beginning of World War II that interest was renewed in the semiconductor. There was a dire need for a device that could work within the ultra-high frequencies of radar. Electron tubes had interelectrode capacitances that were too high to do the job. The point-contact semiconductor diode, on the other hand, had a very low internal capacitance. Consequently, it filled the bill; it could be designed to work within the ultra-high frequencies used in radar, whereas the electron tube could not.
As radar took on greater importance and communication-electronic equipment became more sophisticated, the demands for better solid-state devices mounted. The limitations of the electron tube made necessary a quest for something new and different. An amplifying device was needed that was smaller, lighter, more efficient, and capable of handling extremely high frequencies.
This was asking a lot, but if progress was to be made, these requirements had to be met. A serious study of semiconductor materials began in the early 1940’s and has continued since.
In June 1948, a significant breakthrough took place in semiconductor development. This was the discovery of POINT-CONTACT TRANSISTOR. Here at last was a semiconductor that could amplify. This discovery brought the semiconductor back into competition with the electron tube. A year later, JUNCTION DIODES and TRANSISTORS were developed. The junction transistor was found superior to the point-contact type in many respects. By comparison, the junction transistor was more reliable, generated less noise, and had higher power-handling ability than its point-contact brother.
The junction transistor became a rival of the electron tube in many uses previously uncontested. Semiconductor diodes were not to be slighted. The initial work of Dr. Carl Zener led to the development of ZENER DIODE, which is frequently used today to regulate power supply voltages at precise levels.
Considerably more interest in the solid-state diode was generated when Dr. Leo Esaki, a Japanese scientist, fabricated a diode that could amplify. The device, named the TUNNEL DIODE, has amazing gain and fast switching capabilities. Although it is used in the conventional amplifying and oscillating circuits, its primary use is in computer logic circuits.
Another breakthrough came in the late 1950’s when it was discovered that semiconductor materials could be combined and treated so that they functioned as an entire circuit or subassembly rather than as a circuit component. Many names have been given to this solid-circuit concept, such as INTEGRATED CIRCUITS, MICROELECTRONICS, and MICROCIRCUITRY.
So as you can see, in looking back, that the semiconductor is not something new, but it has come a long way in a short time.
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