What is a semiconductor?


What is a semiconductor? Describe the two main types of semiconductors and contrast their conduction mechanism.


Semiconductors are substances having conductance in the intermediate range of 10-6 to 104 ohm−1m−1.

The two main types of semiconductors are:

(i) n-type semiconductor

(ii) p-type semiconductor

n-type semiconductor: The semiconductor whose increased conductivity is a result of negatively-charged electrons is called an n-type semiconductor. When the crystal of a group 14 element such as Si or Ge is doped with a group 15 element such as P or As, an n-type semiconductor is generated.

Si and Ge have four valence electrons each. In their crystals, each atom forms four covalent bonds. On the other hand, P and As contain five valence electrons each. When Si or Ge is doped with P or As, the latter occupies some of the lattice sites in the crystal. Four out of five electrons are used in the formation of four covalent bonds with four neighbouring Si or Ge atoms. The remaining fifth electron becomes delocalised and increases the conductivity of the doped Si or Ge.

p-type semiconductor: The semiconductor whose increased in conductivity is a result of electron hole is called a p-type semiconductor. When a crystal of group 14 elements such as Si or Ge is doped with a group 13 element such as B, Al, or Ga (which contains only three valence electrons), a p-type of semiconductor is generated.

When a crystal of Si is doped with B, the three electrons of B are used in the formation of three covalent bonds and an electron hole is created. An electron from the neighbouring atom can come and fill this electron hole, but in doing so, it would leave an electron hole at its original position. The process appears as if the electron hole has moved in the direction opposite to that of the electron that filled it. Therefore, when an electric field is applied, electrons will move toward the positively-charged plate through electron holes. However, it will appear as if the electron holes are positively-charged and are moving toward the negatively- charged plate.

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