What Are Semiconductors and Their Types?

Semiconductors are an extremely common component for digital products, often being found in smartphones, televisions, digital cameras, home appliances, temperature sensors, transistors, and much more. A semiconductor is a type of material that features a conductivity level between a conductor and insulator, and their resistivity will often be altered by the doping of crystal structures or changes in temperatures. As a basic building block of countless electronic devices and integrated circuits, having a general understanding of their design, types, and uses can be very beneficial.

Semiconductor components can be produced from a diverse set of materials, common examples being silicon, germanium, gallium arsenide, and others. Silicon is generally the most common choice for such components, though gallium arsenide is also quite popular for applications such as laser diodes, microwave-frequency integrated circuits, and other electronic devices. While each material type may have its own set characteristics and conductive properties, resistance may be affected through the means of doping. When doping silicon, for example, tiny amounts of pentavalent or trivalent atoms are added to the material in order to increase conductivity as desired. Alongside doping, adjusting the temperature of a semiconductor will cause resistance to rise as heat rises.

Semiconductors are often classified in two groups, those of which are intrinsic and extrinsic materials. An intrinsic semiconductor is a material that is extremely pure in regard to its chemical makeup. Due to the composition of intrinsic semiconductors, such materials feature low conductivity and will contain a low amount of charge carriers such as holes and electrons. Extrinsic semiconductors, on the other hand, are those that have had impurities added through doping. This permits more or less electrons to be present within the material as compared to the base substance, resulting in an electron excess or shortage.

When there is either an excess or shortage of electrons within a semiconductor, they may be considered an N- or P-type semiconductor. N-type semiconductors are those with an excess of electrons, allowing free electrons to flow in a single direction based on the influence of a potential difference. Within such semiconductor types, the electrons serve as the charge carrier.

P-type semiconductors are when there is a shortage of electrons, thus there will often be more holes in the crystal lattice. With the holes, electrons may move between empty positions while under the influence of a potential difference. In P-type semiconductor materials, the holes will generally have less mobility than the free electrons and are considered the positively charged carriers of the component.

With the various types of semiconductors available and their ability to be doped for the means of achieving specific resistive qualities, such materials may be used to produce numerous electronic components. The semiconductor diode is a common electronic part, capable of controlling current in a single direction. Generally, such diode components are composed of semiconductor materials such as silicon. Sensors are also sometimes produced with semiconductor materials, and common types include temperature sensors and integrated circuit temperature sensors. Beyond such examples, semiconductors are common to many other electronic devices and components such as transistors, microchips, circuits, solar cells, and more.


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