Solid state physics has classified the material that exist in nature into three types- Insulators, semiconductors and conductors. The material with fully occupied valence bands and empty conduction bands are insulators, the material with almost fully filled valence band and almost empty conduction band are semiconductors whereas the material with empty conduction band and fully filled conduction band are conductors. The semiconductor behaves as insulator at 0K and as temperature increase it behaves as conductor as temperature increases.
What is Semiconductor?
A substance that is usually solid element or a compound which can conduct electricity under certain conditions that makes it a good medium for the passing of current is known as a semiconductor. Basically, semiconductors are the materials which are conductive between an insulator that are non-conductors and metals that are conductors. They can either be a pure element or even compounds. They are an important part of our lives because of the role played by them in the electronic devices.
Conduction in Semiconductors: After having some knowledge on the electrons, we came to know that the outermost shell has the valence electrons which are loosely attached to the nucleus. Such an atom, having valence electrons when brought close to the other atom, the valence electrons of both these atoms combine to form “Electron pairs”. This bonding is not so very strong and hence it is a Covalent bond.
For example, a germanium atom has 32 electrons. 2 electrons in first orbit, 8 in second orbit, 18 in third orbit, while 4 in last orbit. These 4 electrons are valence electrons of germanium atom. These electrons tend to combine with valence electrons of adjoining atoms, to form the electron pairs, as shown in the following figure.Properties of Semiconductors: Some of the properties of semiconductors which have been seen so far and are also being explored till now are listed below.
- Electrical Conductivity: The process of doing makes it easier to have control on the electrical conductivity. When the dopant is changed, the semiconductor can conduct both holes and electrons without being changed. When the doping is done on a higher level, degeneracy happens which make the material can behave like a metal. If an amorphous film of the semiconductor is formed, then it will behave like an insulator only. On the basis of these properties, many electronic devices came into the picture like transistors, diodes etc.
- Optical Properties: There may be a direct or indirect band gap existing in semiconductors. The semiconductors with direct band gap are able to emit a photon when excitation is done by the wavelength required. On the basis of this property, the development of applications like LEDs, lasers etc. came in action. The semiconductors with indirect band gap can be made of the type direct band gap by simply alloying.
- Photo Conductivity: An electron-hole pair can be produced by illuminating a p–np–n These electron-hole pairs can then be collected in at the used electrodes in the circuit which will now pass current. Because of this property, the development of photodetectors and solar cells was possible.
Types of Semiconductors: We can classify semiconductors in two categories:
- Intrinsic Semiconductor: The material of this type of semiconductor is of chemically very pure form. Also, this type of material has poor conductivity. These materials have an equal number of positive and negative carriers. Positive carriers are holes and negative carriers are electrons. The energy gap that is forbidden is very minute in such semiconductors and hence, even the room temperature energy is sufficient enough for the electrons to jump across the band of conduction. Also, the Fermis level of such materials lies in between the conduction band and the valence band.
- Extrinsic Semiconductor: An extrinsic semiconductor is simply an improved type of intrinsic semiconductor. This is done by addition of a small amount of impurities being added by the process called doping. This process only alters the electrical properties of the semiconductor thereby increasing the conductivity of the material. Basically, the increase of impurities in a semiconductor results in improvement and controlling of their conductivity.