Semiconductors are one of the most used electronic devices globally. These devices are an essential part of the manufacturing of various electronic components used in telecommunication, medicine, military systems, computer science, transport, and many other applications.
Semiconductors are also known as integrated circuits or microchips. They are designed from pure elements, such as silicon, germanium, or gallium arsenide. During the manufacturing process and a stage called doping, impurities are added to the chosen element to trigger changes in the material’s conductivity.
Due to their use in the manufacture of electronic devices, semiconductors are crucial in everyday life. Without semiconductors, you would not have smartphones, TVs, radios, computers, or advanced medical equipment.
In this post, you will learn everything about semiconductors. But first, lets us know what it is in the first place.
What Is a Semiconductor?
A semiconductor is an element with specific electrical properties that helps it work as a foundation for various electronic devices. In most cases, semiconductors are solid chemical elements used to conduct electricity under given conditions but do not conduct in other situations. This property makes a semiconductor suitable for controlling electric current in many appliances used at home, in hospitals, and in other industries.
Substances that conduct electricity are known as conductors. On the other hand, substances that do not conduct electricity are referred to as insulators. The properties of a semiconductor make it sit in between a conductor and an insulator. Diodes, integrated circuits, ad transistors are all designed using semiconductors.
The conductance in a semiconductor varies significantly, depending on the voltage, current going through the element, and the intensity of the visible light. Accordingly, the properties of a semiconductor vary according to the impurities used during the doping stage.
How Does a Semiconductor Work?
All materials and elements used to make semiconductors have specific properties. For instance, they have four electrons in their outermost orbit. These electrons form a covalent bond with four atoms, resulting in a lattice crystal that looks like a diamond or silver metallic substance. Silicon is the most common semiconductor material because it is readily available and easy to work with. When a dopant is introduced, it creates instability in the silicon crystal, allowing the free movement of electrons. The electron movement creates an electron imbalance that generates a charge depending on the number of electrons.
What Are the Uses of Semiconductors?
Before going deep into the discussion about semiconductors, it is crucial to dissect some of their uses and applications. Now that you know what a semiconductor is and how it works, you should understand that they are crucial in many applications and industries. Semiconductors are used based on their capacity to conduct electricity. Since they conduct electricity in the right conditions, they are used to regulate the flow of current in devices. In this case, they can be conductors, insulators, or both, depending on where they are used. This characteristic makes them suitable for use in almost every industry that requires some conductivity.
The conductivity of a semiconductor can be altered to give the required property which is suitable for a particular product. Therefore, semiconductors are highly customizable materials. They are also known as chips or semis and are widely used in electronics manufacturing to enhance and regulate the functionality of various devices and appliances. Semiconductor manufacturers primarily need them to make smaller devices like TVs, computers, smartphones, watches, and computer-gaming equipment. All devices that need semiconductors are generally compact, power-efficient, low-cost, and reliable when it comes to manufacturing.
Lastly, semiconductors can be used based on four distinct categories, namely memory chips, microprocessors, complex systems on a chip, and commodity integrated circuits.
What Are the Two Types of Semiconductors?
Doping is a process used to introduce other materials, mainly impurities, into the crystal of an element. Such impurities are known as dopants. When doping is done, silicon crystals can change into two types of semiconductors.
The N-type semiconductor is made when a dopant with five electrons in the outermost valence layer is used. Phosphorus is a common element used for this reason. The atom from the element joins in the structure of the crystal, bonding with adjacent atoms. Since phosphorus has five free electrons, four will bond, leaving one hanging. The extra valence starts behaving like a single valence electron in a typical conductor. It moves about freely. Since the semiconductor has an extra electron, it is called an N-type semiconductor.
A P-type semiconductor is made when a dopant with three electrons in the outermost valance layer is used. When it is introduced into a silicon crystal, all the three electrons get attached to adjacent silicon atoms. However, a hole would be created because the dopant only has three active electrons. The resulting hole would cat like a positive charge. Therefore, the semiconductor is called a P-type semiconductor. The hole attracts electrons since it acts as a positive charge. Every time it attracts an electron, the electron leaves another hole where it moves from. In this case, the P-type semiconductor has a constantly moving hole within the crystal.
Upon applying a voltage on a P-type or N-type semiconductor, current flows in the same way it would in a typical conductor. The positive side of the voltage attracts electrons while the negative side pushes them. The resulting motion leads to a one-directional movement creating a measurable current.
How Does An N-Type Semiconductor Differ from A P-Type Semiconductor?
An N-type semiconductor, like the name suggests, carries a negative charge in a way similar to a conduction wire. On the other hand, a P-type semiconductor carries an electron deficiency, leading to the creation of holes with positive charges.
The positive charge in a P-type semiconductor equals the number of the opposite electrons in the outermost valence layer. In a P-type semiconductor, the flow of electrons and holes occurs in opposite directions.
Elements used to make these two types of semiconductors include arsenic, boron, germanium, silicon, tellurium, and selenium. Silicon is the most common one, and it forms the basis of an integrated circuit. Other common semiconductor compounds include metal oxides, indium antimonide, and gallium arsenide.
How Do Intrinsic and Extrinsic Semiconductors Differ?
The most notable difference between intrinsic and extrinsic semiconductors is found in their structure or form. For instance, an intrinsic semiconductor is a pure form element made of one semiconductor material. These semiconductors do not have any impurities in their structure. On the other hand, extrinsic semiconductors are impure elements that are mainly created from doping. They are made up of many intrinsic semiconductors with another substance, impurity, added to enhance their properties.
What Are the Different Semiconductor Materials?
Many devices need a semiconductor material to function properly. Accordingly, semiconductor materials vary according to prices and availability. Silicon is the most abundant semiconductor material. In fact, many manufacturing processes are made complete by the use of semiconductors in products.
When an existing semiconductor material is depleted, a new one takes its place. The market for semiconductor materials and the many applications of semiconductors have changed the manufacturing industry. To understand semiconductors, you need to understand the semiconductor material used to make them. Accordingly, it is crucial to know how the makeup of a semiconductor material affects an electronic device. Here are the two most common semiconductor materials.
Silicon is one of the most abundant elements on the earth’s surface. Although it is not found as a free element, silicon occurs as oxides and silicates. Primarily, silicon metal is found after a reaction between silicon dioxide with carbons.
There are many companies producing silicon for commercial use. China is believed to be the largest producer of silicon.
Germanium is another element used to make semiconductors. It has an almost similar appearance to silicon. It is also not found as a free element due to its high reactivity factor. A large portion of germanium is mined from sphalerite zinc ores.
Germanium is less desirable for making semiconductors because it is more expensive and thermal-sensitive. It is mainly alloyed with silicon and used to make high-speed electronic devices.
Other effective semiconductor materials
Gallium arsenide and silicon dioxide also have superior properties to silicon, making them effective for use as insulators, passive layers, and building components devices.
What Are Some New Inventions in Semiconductor Materials?
- High-power gallium nitride is found to be more efficient and faster in converting power in electric grid systems. These properties are because the material has a very high critical energy field.
- Bismuthide-based and antimonide-based semiconductors are increasingly used in infrared sensors in the military and medical industries.
- Pyrite is increasingly replacing cadmium telluride used in solar cells because it is more abundant, inexpensive, and nontoxic.
- Graphene will soon replace silicon as the most used semiconductor material.
What Are the Properties of a Semiconductor Material?
Semiconductor materials possess specific properties that make them suitable for electrical conductivity. The future of semiconductor manufacturing relies heavily on whether the new elements have similar properties at no added costs.
All materials that allow conductivity are known as conductors. Some known conductors include copper, gold, and silver. On the other hand, materials that do not allow electrical conductivity are known as insulators. They include glass, rubber, and ceramics.
Semiconductors, as the name suggests, have the properties of conductors and insulators. Semiconductors possess a low number of free electrons needed for electric conductivity. The atoms of a semiconductor group together to form a crystal that makes conductivity possible. This conductivity can only happen when the conditions are right, or else they would act as insulators. For instance, semiconductors act as insulators when the temperatures are very low. When they are exposed to heat, light, or voltage, they allow conductivity. It is this state that makes semiconductors an integral part of manufacturing electronic devices. They typically control the flow of electricity.
What Are the Semiconductor Basics?
As highlighted already, semiconductor materials, such as germanium, gallium arsenide, and silicon, have electric conductivity properties that lie somewhere between conductors and insulators. They can neither be classified as good insulators nor good conductors. That is why they are known as semiconductors.
Semiconductors have free electrons since their atoms are packed in a crystalline pattern known as crystal lattice. However, the electrons can move about under special conditions. Manufacturers know how to play with the makeup of a semiconductor to improve or limit its ability to conduct electricity. For instance, the addition of a donor atom in the crystalline structure of semiconductors results in more free electrons and thereby increasing conductivity. The opposite is true when limiting the conductivity.
Silicon and germanium are categorized as intrinsic semiconductors when working on their own. This is when they are used as pure as they come, without doping. However, semiconductor manufacturers can control the number of impurities through doping to regulate the conductivity of semiconductor material. Various impurities can be added to the semiconductor material to create more electrons and holes depending on the type of semiconductor required.
The process of adding donors or acceptors to a semiconductor to regulate conductivity is often known as doping. Doped silicon or germanium is no longer considered pure since their crystalline structures have dopants or impurities. The resulting semiconductor after doping can either be an N-type semiconductor or a P-type semiconductor.
The most basic and commonly used semiconductor material is silicon. Silicon has four free electrons in the outermost valence layer, which share with the neighboring silicon atom to form a bond with eight shared atoms in the outer valence. The resulting structure is that each atom shares an electron to enhance stability. Since the structure of a silicon atom or germanium atom does not have free electrons to move about, they are often good insulators in their purest forms. Alternatively, they are considered high-value resistors.
Silicon atoms are found in a symmetrical pattern resulting in a crystalline structure known as a crystal lattice. A crystal lattice of pure silica is known as an intrinsic crystal without free electrons. This structure is often very pure. When connected to a voltage source, such as a battery cell, the silicon crystal may not extract current since the supply may not be enough to generate electrons. To extract current, you need to generate a positive or negative charge within the silicon structure, which, in turn, allows the flow of electrons and electric current through the crystal. The negative or positive charge is created through doping.
How Are Semiconductors Made?
Semiconductor manufacturers are experts in chemistry and physics because the manufacture of these elements requires knowledge and experience in the two fields. All chemicals used in the manufacture of semiconductors must be pure. The process of adding donors or acceptors into the semiconductor is known as doping. One of the most vital components used in making semiconductors is a silicon wafer.
The semiconductor manufacturing process
The process of manufacturing a semiconductor can be broken into six stages. Each stage is explained below:
The first phase involves designing and creating a mask. In this stage, the manufacturers define the function of the integrated circuit, design the electric circuit, and make a mask for the integrated circuit based on the required design.
This stage involves the crating of patterns for the front-end circuit.
The manufacturer creates the integrated circuit on a silicon substrate or what is commonly known as a silicon wafer.
At this stage, an insulation layer for the device is created using field-oxide film. This is done to electrically isolate the device. After the formation of an insulation layer, transistors are designed in the active areas to regulate the flow of electrons.
All devices, including transistors, are connected to create an electronic circuit.
Device assembly and testing
The last stage involves assembling the device. This is done after the integrated circuit chip is created and encapsulated into packages. A thorough inspection follows to test the device for errors before it is introduced into the market.
What Is the Difference Between a Semiconductor, a Conductor, And an Insulator?
By now, you have come across the terms; semiconductor, conductor, and insulator multiple times. However, they might be confusing if you do not have a good grasp of chemistry and physics concepts. Therefore, it is crucial to differentiate them in the best and most understandable terms possible.
As mentioned earlier, a semiconductor is a material that is not a conductor or an insulator but possesses both the characteristics of a conductor and an insulator. On the other hand, a material that conducts electricity is known as a conductor, while a material that does not conduct electricity is called an insulator.
Semiconductors lie somewhere between an insulator and a conductor. This means that semiconductors can conduct electricity or not, depending on the prevailing conditions. For instance, when the conditions are favorable, semiconductors act like conductors, allowing the flow of current. On the other hand, if the conditions are not favorable, they act as insulators, blocking the flow of current.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Semiconductors
Semiconductors became very popular due to their wide-ranging uses and applications. However, it is worth noting that semiconductors are becoming less and less available due to shortages in semiconductor materials. Over the years, these elements have been the backbone of electronic manufacturing.
Semiconductors are always at the heart of electronic manufacturing since they are useful in controlling electricity flow in devices. They make devices as compact and efficient as possible. With this, many people have started looking into these tiny magic for answers. Here are some of the questions we have compiled from around the web that will help you understand semiconductors better.
What is a semiconductor chip?
A semiconductor chip is another word used to refer to a semiconductor or an integrated circuit. A semiconductor chip is a substance that has both the characteristics of a conductor and an insulator. These chips regulate the flow of current in many electronic devices to achieve efficiency.
What is a radio frequency semiconductor?
A radio frequency semiconductor or an RF semiconductor is a device used to control power in an electronic device. It can act as a power ON/OFF button. Accordingly, they work in a radio frequency spectrum between 3KHz and 300GHz.
What is a semiconductor optical amplifier?
An SOA, or what is known as a semiconductor optical amplifier, is a component in semiconductors used to amplify light. They are crucial in communication receivers used in data centers because they compensate for the loss of transmission.
What is a fable semiconductor?
A fable semiconductor is a term many people use to refer to a company that manufactures semiconductor chips without building its own silicon wafers. Instead, such a company outsources the fabrication of silicon wafers and chips to another manufacturer.
What is a semiconductor manufacturer?
A semiconductor manufacturer or manufacturing company is a company that fabricates semiconductors used in making electronic devices. If you want to buy semiconductors, it is crucial to know a semiconductor manufacturer with a reputation for making the best quality products in the market.
Semiconductors are widely used for many applications in almost every industry, especially in the manufacture of electronic devices and appliances. As the name suggests, semiconductors are elements that possess both the properties of conductors and insulators. This aspect means that semiconductors as not conductors or insulators. However, they act as conductors or insulators depending on the prevailing conditions.
Most semiconductors are crystals made of semiconductor materials, such as silicon, germanium, and gallium arsenide. To understand how semiconductors work, it is first important to know these semiconductor materials and their properties. Most semiconductor materials have four free electrons in their outermost valence layer. When these electrons are attached to other atoms, there is always an imbalance that leads to a negative or positive charge. These charges are responsible for conductivity. Accordingly, the electrons are attached to other atoms when doping happens.
Lastly, if you are planning to purchase any electrical component such as a semiconductor, contact us today. We at ICRFQ are the best electrical components manufacturer in China.
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