Semiconductor

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A semiconductor material has an electrical conductivity value falling between that of a conductor, such as metallic copper, and an insulator, such as glass. Its resistance decreases as its temperature increases, which is the behaviour opposite to that of a metal. Its conducting properties may be altered in useful ways by the deliberate, controlled introduction of impurities ("doping") into the crystal structure. Where two differently-doped regions exist in the same crystal, a semiconductor junction is created. The behavior of charge carriers which include electrons, ions and electron holes at these junctions is the basis of diodes, transistors and all modern electronics. Some examples of semiconductors are silicon, germanium, gallium arsenide, and elements near the so-called "metalloid staircase" on the periodic table. After silicon, gallium arsenide is the second most common semiconductor[ citation needed ] and is used in laser diodes, solar cells, microwave-frequency integrated circuits and others. Silicon is a critical element for fabricating most electronic circuits.

Electrical resistivity and its inverse, electrical conductivity, is a fundamental property of a material that quantifies how strongly it resists or conducts electric current. A low resistivity indicates a material that readily allows electric current. Resistivity is commonly represented by the Greek letter ρ (rho). The SI unit of electrical resistivity is the ohm-meter (Ω⋅m). For example, if a 1 m × 1 m × 1 m solid cube of material has sheet contacts on two opposite faces, and the resistance between these contacts is 1 Ω, then the resistivity of the material is 1 Ω⋅m.

Electrical conductor object or material which permits the flow of electricity

In physics and electrical engineering, a conductor is an object or type of material that allows the flow of charge in one or more directions. Materials made of metal are common electrical conductors. Electrical current is generated by the flow of negatively charged electrons, positively charged holes, and positive or negative ions in some cases.

In semiconductor production, doping is the intentional introduction of impurities into an intrinsic semiconductor for the purpose of modulating its electrical, optical and structural properties. The doped material is referred to as an extrinsic semiconductor. A semiconductor doped to such high levels that it acts more like a conductor than a semiconductor is referred to as a degenerate semiconductor.

Contents

Semiconductor devices can display a range of useful properties such as passing current more easily in one direction than the other, showing variable resistance, and sensitivity to light or heat. Because the electrical properties of a semiconductor material can be modified by doping, or by the application of electrical fields or light, devices made from semiconductors can be used for amplification, switching, and energy conversion.

A semiconductor device is an electronic component that exploits the electronic properties of semiconductor material, principally silicon, germanium, and gallium arsenide, as well as organic semiconductors. Semiconductor devices have replaced vacuum tubes in most applications. They use electrical conduction in the solid state rather than the gaseous state or thermionic emission in a vacuum.

The conductivity of silicon is increased by adding a small amount (of the order of 1 in 108) of pentavalent (antimony, phosphorus, or arsenic) or trivalent (boron, gallium, indium) atoms. This process is known as doping and resulting semiconductors are known as doped or extrinsic semiconductors. Apart from doping, the conductivity of a semiconductor can equally be improved by increasing its temperature. This is contrary to the behaviour of a metal in which conductivity decreases with increase in temperature.

Antimony Chemical element with atomic number 51

Antimony is a chemical element with the symbol Sb (from Latin: stibium) and atomic number 51. A lustrous gray metalloid, it is found in nature mainly as the sulfide mineral stibnite (Sb2S3). Antimony compounds have been known since ancient times and were powdered for use as medicine and cosmetics, often known by the Arabic name, kohl. Metallic antimony was also known, but it was erroneously identified as lead upon its discovery. The earliest known description of the metal in the West was written in 1540 by Vannoccio Biringuccio.

Phosphorus Chemical element with atomic number 15

Phosphorus is a chemical element with the symbol P and atomic number 15. Elemental phosphorus exists in two major forms, white phosphorus and red phosphorus, but because it is highly reactive, phosphorus is never found as a free element on Earth. It has a concentration in the Earth's crust of about one gram per kilogram. With few exceptions, minerals containing phosphorus are in the maximally oxidized state as inorganic phosphate rocks.

Arsenic Chemical element with atomic number 33

Arsenic is a chemical element with the symbol As and atomic number 33. Arsenic occurs in many minerals, usually in combination with sulfur and metals, but also as a pure elemental crystal. Arsenic is a metalloid. It has various allotropes, but only the gray form, which has a metallic appearance, is important to industry.

The modern understanding of the properties of a semiconductor relies on quantum physics to explain the movement of charge carriers in a crystal lattice. [1] Doping greatly increases the number of charge carriers within the crystal. When a doped semiconductor contains mostly free holes it is called "p-type", and when it contains mostly free electrons it is known as "n-type". The semiconductor materials used in electronic devices are doped under precise conditions to control the concentration and regions of p- and n-type dopants. A single semiconductor crystal can have many p- and n-type regions; the p–n junctions between these regions are responsible for the useful electronic behavior.

Crystal structure Ordered arrangement of atoms, ions, or molecules in a crystalline material

In crystallography, crystal structure is a description of the ordered arrangement of atoms, ions or molecules in a crystalline material. Ordered structures occur from the intrinsic nature of the constituent particles to form symmetric patterns that repeat along the principal directions of three-dimensional space in matter.

p–n junction semiconductor–semiconductor junction, formed at the boundary between a p-type and n-type semiconductor

A p–n junction is a boundary or interface between two types of semiconductor materials, p-type and n-type, inside a single crystal of semiconductor. The "p" (positive) side contains an excess of holes, while the "n" (negative) side contains an excess of electrons in the outer shells of the electrically neutral atoms there. This allows electrical current to pass through the junction only in one direction. The p-n junction is created by doping, for example by ion implantation, diffusion of dopants, or by epitaxy. If two separate pieces of material were used, this would introduce a grain boundary between the semiconductors that would severely inhibit its utility by scattering the electrons and holes.

Some of the properties of semiconductor materials were observed throughout the mid 19th and first decades of the 20th century. The first practical application of semiconductors in electronics was the 1904 development of the cat's-whisker detector, a primitive semiconductor diode used in early radio receivers. Developments in quantum physics in turn led to the development of the transistor in 1947, [2] the integrated circuit in 1958, and the MOSFET (metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor) in 1959.

Transistor Basic electronics component

A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify or switch electronic signals and electrical power. It is composed of semiconductor material usually with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals controls the current through another pair of terminals. Because the controlled (output) power can be higher than the controlling (input) power, a transistor can amplify a signal. Today, some transistors are packaged individually, but many more are found embedded in integrated circuits.

Integrated circuit electronic circuit manufactured by lithography; set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece (or "chip") of semiconductor material, normally silicon

An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit is a set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece of semiconductor material that is normally silicon. The integration of large numbers of tiny MOS transistors into a small chip results in circuits that are orders of magnitude smaller, faster, and less expensive than those constructed of discrete electronic components. The IC's mass production capability, reliability, and building-block approach to circuit design has ensured the rapid adoption of standardized ICs in place of designs using discrete transistors. ICs are now used in virtually all electronic equipment and have revolutionized the world of electronics. Computers, mobile phones, and other digital home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the small size and low cost of ICs.

MOSFET Transistor used for amplifying or switching electronic signals

The metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET, MOS-FET, or MOS FET), also known as the metal–oxide–silicon transistor (MOS transistor, or MOS), is a type of field-effect transistor that is fabricated by the controlled oxidation of a semiconductor, typically silicon. It has an insulated gate, whose voltage determines the conductivity of the device. This ability to change conductivity with the amount of applied voltage can be used for amplifying or switching electronic signals. The MOSFET is the basic building block of modern electronics. Since its invention by Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng at Bell Labs in November 1959, the MOSFET has become the most widely manufactured device in history, with an estimated total of 13 sextillion (1.3 × 1022) MOS transistors manufactured between 1960 and 2018.

Properties

Variable electrical conductivity
Semiconductors in their natural state are poor conductors because a current requires the flow of electrons, and semiconductors have their valence bands filled, preventing the entire flow of new electrons. There are several developed techniques that allow semiconducting materials to behave like conducting materials, such as doping or gating. These modifications have two outcomes: n-type and p-type. These refer to the excess or shortage of electrons, respectively. An unbalanced number of electrons would cause a current to flow through the material. [3]
Heterojunctions
Heterojunctions occur when two differently doped semiconducting materials are joined together. For example, a configuration could consist of p-doped and n-doped germanium. This results in an exchange of electrons and holes between the differently doped semiconducting materials. The n-doped germanium would have an excess of electrons, and the p-doped germanium would have an excess of holes. The transfer occurs until equilibrium is reached by a process called recombination, which causes the migrating electrons from the n-type to come in contact with the migrating holes from the p-type. A product of this process is charged ions, which result in an electric field. [1] [3]
Excited electrons
A difference in electric potential on a semiconducting material would cause it to leave thermal equilibrium and create a non-equilibrium situation. This introduces electrons and holes to the system, which interact via a process called ambipolar diffusion. Whenever thermal equilibrium is disturbed in a semiconducting material, the number of holes and electrons changes. Such disruptions can occur as a result of a temperature difference or photons, which can enter the system and create electrons and holes. The process that creates and annihilates electrons and holes are called generation and recombination. [3]
Light emission
In certain semiconductors, excited electrons can relax by emitting light instead of producing heat. [4] These semiconductors are used in the construction of light-emitting diodes and fluorescent quantum dots.
High thermal conductivity

Semiconductors with high thermal conductivity can be used for heat dissipation and improving thermal management of electronics. [5]

Thermal energy conversion
Semiconductors have large thermoelectric power factors making them useful in thermoelectric generators, as well as high thermoelectric figures of merit making them useful in thermoelectric coolers. [6]

Materials

Silicon crystals are the most common semiconducting materials used in microelectronics and photovoltaics. Silicon.jpg
Silicon crystals are the most common semiconducting materials used in microelectronics and photovoltaics.

A large number of elements and compounds have semiconducting properties, including: [7]

Most common semiconducting materials are crystalline solids, but amorphous and liquid semiconductors are also known. These include hydrogenated amorphous silicon and mixtures of arsenic, selenium and tellurium in a variety of proportions. These compounds share with better known semiconductors the properties of intermediate conductivity and a rapid variation of conductivity with temperature, as well as occasional negative resistance. Such disordered materials lack the rigid crystalline structure of conventional semiconductors such as silicon. They are generally used in thin film structures, which do not require material of higher electronic quality, being relatively insensitive to impurities and radiation damage.

Preparation of semiconductor materials

Almost all of today's electronic technology involves the use of semiconductors, with the most important aspect being the integrated circuit (IC), which are found in laptops, scanners, cell-phones, etc. Semiconductors for ICs are mass-produced. To create an ideal semiconducting material, chemical purity is paramount. Any small imperfection can have a drastic effect on how the semiconducting material behaves due to the scale at which the materials are used. [3]

A high degree of crystalline perfection is also required, since faults in crystal structure (such as dislocations, twins, and stacking faults) interfere with the semiconducting properties of the material. Crystalline faults are a major cause of defective semiconductor devices. The larger the crystal, the more difficult it is to achieve the necessary perfection. Current mass production processes use crystal ingots between 100 and 300 mm (3.9 and 11.8 in) in diameter which are grown as cylinders and sliced into wafers.

There is a combination of processes that is used to prepare semiconducting materials for ICs. One process is called thermal oxidation, which forms silicon dioxide on the surface of the silicon. This is used as a gate insulator and field oxide. Other processes are called photomasks and photolithography. This process is what creates the patterns on the circuity in the integrated circuit. Ultraviolet light is used along with a photoresist layer to create a chemical change that generates the patterns for the circuit. [3]

Etching is the next process that is required. The part of the silicon that was not covered by the photoresist layer from the previous step can now be etched. The main process typically used today is called plasma etching. Plasma etching usually involves an etch gas pumped in a low-pressure chamber to create plasma. A common etch gas is chlorofluorocarbon, or more commonly known Freon. A high radio-frequency voltage between the cathode and anode is what creates the plasma in the chamber. The silicon wafer is located on the cathode, which causes it to be hit by the positively charged ions that are released from the plasma. The end result is silicon that is etched anisotropically. [1] [3]

The last process is called diffusion. This is the process that gives the semiconducting material its desired semiconducting properties. It is also known as doping. The process introduces an impure atom to the system, which creates the p-n junction. In order to get the impure atoms embedded in the silicon wafer, the wafer is first put in a 1,100 degree Celsius chamber. The atoms are injected in and eventually diffuse with the silicon. After the process is completed and the silicon has reached room temperature, the doping process is done and the semiconducting material is ready to be used in an integrated circuit. [1] [3]

Physics of semiconductors

Energy bands and electrical conduction

Filling of the electronic states in various types of materials at equilibrium. Here, height is energy while width is the density of available states for a certain energy in the material listed. The shade follows the Fermi-Dirac distribution (black = all states filled, white = no state filled). In metals and semimetals the Fermi level EF lies inside at least one band. In insulators and semiconductors the Fermi level is inside a band gap; however, in semiconductors the bands are near enough to the Fermi level to be thermally populated with electrons or holes.
edit Band filling diagram.svg
Filling of the electronic states in various types of materials at equilibrium. Here, height is energy while width is the density of available states for a certain energy in the material listed. The shade follows the Fermi–Dirac distribution (black = all states filled, white = no state filled). In metals and semimetals the Fermi level EF lies inside at least one band. In insulators and semiconductors the Fermi level is inside a band gap; however, in semiconductors the bands are near enough to the Fermi level to be thermally populated with electrons or holes.

Semiconductors are defined by their unique electric conductive behavior, somewhere between that of a conductor and an insulator. [8] The differences between these materials can be understood in terms of the quantum states for electrons, each of which may contain zero or one electron (by the Pauli exclusion principle). These states are associated with the electronic band structure of the material. Electrical conductivity arises due to the presence of electrons in states that are delocalized (extending through the material), however in order to transport electrons a state must be partially filled, containing an electron only part of the time. [9] If the state is always occupied with an electron, then it is inert, blocking the passage of other electrons via that state. The energies of these quantum states are critical, since a state is partially filled only if its energy is near the Fermi level (see Fermi–Dirac statistics).

High conductivity in a material comes from it having many partially filled states and much state delocalization. Metals are good electrical conductors and have many partially filled states with energies near their Fermi level. Insulators, by contrast, have few partially filled states, their Fermi levels sit within band gaps with few energy states to occupy. Importantly, an insulator can be made to conduct by increasing its temperature: heating provides energy to promote some electrons across the band gap, inducing partially filled states in both the band of states beneath the band gap (valence band) and the band of states above the band gap (conduction band). An (intrinsic) semiconductor has a band gap that is smaller than that of an insulator and at room temperature significant numbers of electrons can be excited to cross the band gap. [10]

A pure semiconductor, however, is not very useful, as it is neither a very good insulator nor a very good conductor. However, one important feature of semiconductors (and some insulators, known as semi-insulators) is that their conductivity can be increased and controlled by doping with impurities and gating with electric fields. Doping and gating move either the conduction or valence band much closer to the Fermi level, and greatly increase the number of partially filled states.

Some wider-band gap semiconductor materials are sometimes referred to as semi-insulators. When undoped, these have electrical conductivity nearer to that of electrical insulators, however they can be doped (making them as useful as semiconductors). Semi-insulators find niche applications in micro-electronics, such as substrates for HEMT. An example of a common semi-insulator is gallium arsenide. [11] Some materials, such as titanium dioxide, can even be used as insulating materials for some applications, while being treated as wide-gap semiconductors for other applications.

Charge carriers (electrons and holes)

The partial filling of the states at the bottom of the conduction band can be understood as adding electrons to that band. The electrons do not stay indefinitely (due to the natural thermal recombination) but they can move around for some time. The actual concentration of electrons is typically very dilute, and so (unlike in metals) it is possible to think of the electrons in the conduction band of a semiconductor as a sort of classical ideal gas, where the electrons fly around freely without being subject to the Pauli exclusion principle. In most semiconductors the conduction bands have a parabolic dispersion relation, and so these electrons respond to forces (electric field, magnetic field, etc.) much like they would in a vacuum, though with a different effective mass. [10] Because the electrons behave like an ideal gas, one may also think about conduction in very simplistic terms such as the Drude model, and introduce concepts such as electron mobility.

For partial filling at the top of the valence band, it is helpful to introduce the concept of an electron hole. Although the electrons in the valence band are always moving around, a completely full valence band is inert, not conducting any current. If an electron is taken out of the valence band, then the trajectory that the electron would normally have taken is now missing its charge. For the purposes of electric current, this combination of the full valence band, minus the electron, can be converted into a picture of a completely empty band containing a positively charged particle that moves in the same way as the electron. Combined with the negative effective mass of the electrons at the top of the valence band, we arrive at a picture of a positively charged particle that responds to electric and magnetic fields just as a normal positively charged particle would do in vacuum, again with some positive effective mass. [10] This particle is called a hole, and the collection of holes in the valence band can again be understood in simple classical terms (as with the electrons in the conduction band).

Carrier generation and recombination

When ionizing radiation strikes a semiconductor, it may excite an electron out of its energy level and consequently leave a hole. This process is known as electron–hole pair generation. Electron-hole pairs are constantly generated from thermal energy as well, in the absence of any external energy source.

Electron-hole pairs are also apt to recombine. Conservation of energy demands that these recombination events, in which an electron loses an amount of energy larger than the band gap, be accompanied by the emission of thermal energy (in the form of phonons) or radiation (in the form of photons).

In some states, the generation and recombination of electron–hole pairs are in equipoise. The number of electron-hole pairs in the steady state at a given temperature is determined by quantum statistical mechanics. The precise quantum mechanical mechanisms of generation and recombination are governed by conservation of energy and conservation of momentum.

As the probability that electrons and holes meet together is proportional to the product of their numbers, the product is in steady state nearly constant at a given temperature, providing that there is no significant electric field (which might "flush" carriers of both types, or move them from neighbour regions containing more of them to meet together) or externally driven pair generation. The product is a function of the temperature, as the probability of getting enough thermal energy to produce a pair increases with temperature, being approximately exp(−EG/kT), where k is Boltzmann's constant, T is absolute temperature and EG is band gap.

The probability of meeting is increased by carrier traps—impurities or dislocations which can trap an electron or hole and hold it until a pair is completed. Such carrier traps are sometimes purposely added to reduce the time needed to reach the steady state. [12]

Doping

The conductivity of semiconductors may easily be modified by introducing impurities into their crystal lattice. The process of adding controlled impurities to a semiconductor is known as doping. The amount of impurity, or dopant, added to an intrinsic (pure) semiconductor varies its level of conductivity. Doped semiconductors are referred to as extrinsic. By adding impurity to the pure semiconductors, the electrical conductivity may be varied by factors of thousands or millions.

A 1 cm3 specimen of a metal or semiconductor has of the order of 1022 atoms. In a metal, every atom donates at least one free electron for conduction, thus 1 cm3 of metal contains on the order of 1022 free electrons, whereas a 1 cm3 sample of pure germanium at 20 °C contains about 4.2×1022 atoms, but only 2.5×1013 free electrons and 2.5×1013 holes. The addition of 0.001% of arsenic (an impurity) donates an extra 1017 free electrons in the same volume and the electrical conductivity is increased by a factor of 10,000.

The materials chosen as suitable dopants depend on the atomic properties of both the dopant and the material to be doped. In general, dopants that produce the desired controlled changes are classified as either electron acceptors or donors. Semiconductors doped with donor impurities are called n-type, while those doped with acceptor impurities are known as p-type. The n and p type designations indicate which charge carrier acts as the material's majority carrier. The opposite carrier is called the minority carrier, which exists due to thermal excitation at a much lower concentration compared to the majority carrier.

For example, the pure semiconductor silicon has four valence electrons which bond each silicon atom to its neighbors. In silicon, the most common dopants are group III and group V elements. Group III elements all contain three valence electrons, causing them to function as acceptors when used to dope silicon. When an acceptor atom replaces a silicon atom in the crystal, a vacant state (an electron "hole") is created, which can move around the lattice and functions as a charge carrier. Group V elements have five valence electrons, which allows them to act as a donor; substitution of these atoms for silicon creates an extra free electron. Therefore, a silicon crystal doped with boron creates a p-type semiconductor whereas one doped with phosphorus results in an n-type material.

During manufacture, dopants can be diffused into the semiconductor body by contact with gaseous compounds of the desired element, or ion implantation can be used to accurately position the doped regions.

Amorphous semiconductors

Some materials, when rapidly cooled to a glassy amorphous state, have semiconducting properties. These include B, Si, Ge, Se, Te and there are multiple theories to explain them. [13] [14]

Early history of semiconductors

The history of the understanding of semiconductors begins with experiments on the electrical properties of materials. The properties of negative temperature coefficient of resistance, rectification, and light-sensitivity were observed starting in the early 19th century.

Karl Ferdinand Braun developed the crystal detector, the first semiconductor device, in 1874. Ferdinand Braun.jpg
Karl Ferdinand Braun developed the crystal detector, the first semiconductor device, in 1874.

Thomas Johann Seebeck was the first to notice an effect due to semiconductors, in 1821. [15] In 1833, Michael Faraday reported that the resistance of specimens of silver sulfide decreases when they are heated. This is contrary to the behavior of metallic substances such as copper. In 1839, Alexandre Edmond Becquerel reported observation of a voltage between a solid and a liquid electrolyte when struck by light, the photovoltaic effect. In 1873 Willoughby Smith observed that selenium resistors exhibit decreasing resistance when light falls on them. In 1874, Karl Ferdinand Braun observed conduction and rectification in metallic sulfides, although this effect had been discovered much earlier by Peter Munck af Rosenschold (sv) writing for the Annalen der Physik und Chemie in 1835, [16] and Arthur Schuster found that a copper oxide layer on wires has rectification properties that ceases when the wires are cleaned. William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day observed the photovoltaic effect in selenium in 1876. [17]

A unified explanation of these phenomena required a theory of solid-state physics which developed greatly in the first half of the 20th Century. In 1878 Edwin Herbert Hall demonstrated the deflection of flowing charge carriers by an applied magnetic field, the Hall effect. The discovery of the electron by J.J. Thomson in 1897 prompted theories of electron-based conduction in solids. Karl Baedeker, by observing a Hall effect with the reverse sign to that in metals, theorized that copper iodide had positive charge carriers. Johan Koenigsberger classified solid materials as metals, insulators and "variable conductors" in 1914 although his student Josef Weiss already introduced the term Halbleiter (semiconductor in modern meaning) in PhD thesis in 1910. [18] [19] Felix Bloch published a theory of the movement of electrons through atomic lattices in 1928. In 1930, B. Gudden stated that conductivity in semiconductors was due to minor concentrations of impurities. By 1931, the band theory of conduction had been established by Alan Herries Wilson and the concept of band gaps had been developed. Walter H. Schottky and Nevill Francis Mott developed models of the potential barrier and of the characteristics of a metal–semiconductor junction. By 1938, Boris Davydov had developed a theory of the copper-oxide rectifier, identifying the effect of the p–n junction and the importance of minority carriers and surface states. [20]

Agreement between theoretical predictions (based on developing quantum mechanics) and experimental results was sometimes poor. This was later explained by John Bardeen as due to the extreme "structure sensitive" behavior of semiconductors, whose properties change dramatically based on tiny amounts of impurities. [20] Commercially pure materials of the 1920s containing varying proportions of trace contaminants produced differing experimental results. This spurred the development of improved material refining techniques, culminating in modern semiconductor refineries producing materials with parts-per-trillion purity.

Devices using semiconductors were at first constructed based on empirical knowledge, before semiconductor theory provided a guide to construction of more capable and reliable devices.

Alexander Graham Bell used the light-sensitive property of selenium to transmit sound over a beam of light in 1880. A working solar cell, of low efficiency, was constructed by Charles Fritts in 1883 using a metal plate coated with selenium and a thin layer of gold; the device became commercially useful in photographic light meters in the 1930s. [20] Point-contact microwave detector rectifiers made of lead sulfide were used by Jagadish Chandra Bose in 1904; the cat's-whisker detector using natural galena or other materials became a common device in the development of radio. However, it was somewhat unpredictable in operation and required manual adjustment for best performance. In 1906 H.J. Round observed light emission when electric current passed through silicon carbide crystals, the principle behind the light-emitting diode. Oleg Losev observed similar light emission in 1922 but at the time the effect had no practical use. Power rectifiers, using copper oxide and selenium, were developed in the 1920s and became commercially important as an alternative to vacuum tube rectifiers. [17] [20]

The first semiconductor devices used galena, including German physicist Ferdinand Braun's crystal detector in 1874 and Bengali physicist Jagadish Chandra Bose's radio crystal detector in 1901. [21] [22]

In the years preceding World War II, infrared detection and communications devices prompted research into lead-sulfide and lead-selenide materials. These devices were used for detecting ships and aircraft, for infrared rangefinders, and for voice communication systems. The point-contact crystal detector became vital for microwave radio systems, since available vacuum tube devices could not serve as detectors above about 4000 MHz; advanced radar systems relied on the fast response of crystal detectors. Considerable research and development of silicon materials occurred during the war to develop detectors of consistent quality. [20]

Early transistors

John Bardeen, William Shockley and Walter Brattain developed the bipolar point-contact transistor in 1947. Bardeen Shockley Brattain 1948.JPG
John Bardeen, William Shockley and Walter Brattain developed the bipolar point-contact transistor in 1947.

Detector and power rectifiers could not amplify a signal. Many efforts were made to develop a solid-state amplifier and were successful in developing a device called the point contact transistor which could amplify 20db or more. [20] In 1922 Oleg Losev developed two-terminal, negative resistance amplifiers for radio, and he perished in the Siege of Leningrad after successful completion. In 1926 Julius Edgar Lilienfeld patented a device resembling a field-effect transistor, but it was not practical. R. Hilsch and R. W. Pohl in 1938 demonstrated a solid-state amplifier using a structure resembling the control grid of a vacuum tube; although the device displayed power gain, it had a cut-off frequency of one cycle per second, too low for any practical applications, but an effective application of the available theory. [20] At Bell Labs, William Shockley and A. Holden started investigating solid-state amplifiers in 1938. The first p–n junction in silicon was observed by Russell Ohl about 1941, when a specimen was found to be light-sensitive, with a sharp boundary between p-type impurity at one end and n-type at the other. A slice cut from the specimen at the p–n boundary developed a voltage when exposed to light.

The first working transistor was a point-contact transistor invented by William Shockley, Walter Houser Brattain and John Bardeen at Bell Labs in 1947. Shockley had earlier theorized a field-effect amplifier made from germanium and silicon, but he failed to build such a working device, before eventually using germanium to invent the point-contact transistor. [23] In France, during the war, Herbert Mataré had observed amplification between adjacent point contacts on a germanium base. After the war, Mataré's group announced their "Transistron" amplifier only shortly after Bell Labs announced the "transistor".

In 1954, physical chemist Morris Tanenbaum fabricated the first silicon junction transistor at Bell Labs. [24] However, early junction transistors were relatively bulky devices that were difficult to manufacture on a mass-production basis, which limited them to a number of specialised applications. [25]

Silicon semiconductors

Mohamed Atalla developed the surface passivation process in 1957 and the MOS transistor in 1959. Atalla1963.png
Mohamed Atalla developed the surface passivation process in 1957 and the MOS transistor in 1959.

The first silicon semiconductor device was a silicon radio crystal detector, developed by American engineer Greenleaf Whittier Pickard in 1906. [22] In 1940, Russell Ohl discovered the p-n junction and photovoltaic effects in silicon. In 1941, techniques for producing high-purity germanium and silicon crystals were developed for radar microwave detectors during World War II. [21] In 1955, Carl Frosch and Lincoln Derick at Bell Labs accidentally discovered that silicon dioxide (SiO2) could be grown on silicon, [26] and they later proposed this could mask silicon surfaces during diffusion processes in 1958. [27]

In the early years of the semiconductor industry, up until the late 1950s, germanium was the dominant semiconductor material for transistors and other semiconductor devices, rather than silicon. Germanium was initially considered the more effective semiconductor material, as it was able to demonstrate better performance due to higher carrier mobility. [28] [29] The relative lack of performance in early silicon semiconductors was due to electrical conductivity being limited by unstable quantum surface states, [30] where electrons are trapped at the surface, due to dangling bonds that occur because unsaturated bonds are present at the surface. [31] This prevented electricity from reliably penetrating the surface to reach the semiconducting silicon layer. [32] [33]

A breakthrough in silicon semiconductor technology came with the work of Egyptian engineer Mohamed Atalla, who developed the process of surface passivation by thermal oxidation at Bell Labs in the late 1950s. [31] [34] [29] He discovered that the formation of a thermally grown silicon dioxide layer greatly reduced the concentration of electronic states at the silicon surface, [34] and that silicon oxide layers could be used to electrically stabilize silicon surfaces. [35] Atalla first published his findings in Bell memos during 1957, and then demonstrated it in 1958. [36] [37] This was the first demonstration to show that high-quality silicon dioxide insulator films could be grown thermally on the silicon surface to protect the underlying silicon p-n junction diodes and transistors. [27] Atalla's surface passivation process enabled silicon to surpass the conductivity and performance of germanium, and led to silicon replacing germanium as the dominant semiconductor material. [29] [30] Atalla's surface passivation process is considered the most important advance in silicon semiconductor technology, paving the way for the mass-production of silicon semiconductor devices. [38] Surface passivation by thermal oxidation remains a key feature of silicon semiconductor technology. [39]

MOSFET (MOS transistor)

The MOSFET (MOS transistor) was invented by Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng in 1959. MOSFET Structure.png
The MOSFET (MOS transistor) was invented by Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng in 1959.

In the late 1950s, Mohamed Atalla utilized his surface passivation and thermal oxidation methods to develop the metal–oxide–semiconductor (MOS) process, which he proposed could be used to build the first working silicon field-effect transistor. [32] [33] The led to the invention of the MOSFET (MOS field-effect transistor) by Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng in 1959. [40] [36] It was the first truly compact transistor that could be miniaturised and mass-produced for a wide range of uses, [25] With its scalability, [41] and much lower power consumption and higher density than bipolar junction transistors, [42] the MOSFET became the most common type of transistor in computers, electronics, [33] and communications technology such as smartphones. [43] The US Patent and Trademark Office calls the MOSFET a "groundbreaking invention that transformed life and culture around the world". [43]

The CMOS (complementary [MOS) process was developed by Chih-Tang Sah and Frank Wanlass at Fairchild Semiconductor in 1963. [44] The first report of a floating-gate MOSFET was made by Dawon Kahng and Simon Sze in 1967. [45] FinFET (fin field-effect transistor), a type of 3D multi-gate MOSFET, was developed by Digh Hisamoto and his team of researchers at Hitachi Central Research Laboratory in 1989. [46] [47]

See also

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Diode abstract electronic component with two terminals that allows current to flow in one direction

A diode is a two-terminal electronic component that conducts current primarily in one direction ; it has low resistance in one direction, and high resistance in the other. A diode vacuum tube or thermionic diode is a vacuum tube with two electrodes, a heated cathode and a plate, in which electrons can flow in only one direction, from cathode to plate. A semiconductor diode, the most commonly used type today, is a crystalline piece of semiconductor material with a p–n junction connected to two electrical terminals. Semiconductor diodes were the first semiconductor electronic devices. The discovery of asymmetric electrical conduction across the contact between a crystalline mineral and a metal was made by German physicist Ferdinand Braun in 1874. Today, most diodes are made of silicon, but other materials such as gallium arsenide and germanium are used.

Band gap energy range in a solid where no electron states can exist; energy difference (in electron volts) between the top of the valence band and the bottom of the conduction band in insulators and semiconductors

In solid-state physics, a band gap, also called an energy gap or bandgap, is an energy range in a solid where no electron states can exist. In graphs of the electronic band structure of solids, the band gap generally refers to the energy difference between the top of the valence band and the bottom of the conduction band in insulators and semiconductors. It is the energy required to promote a valence electron bound to an atom to become a conduction electron, which is free to move within the crystal lattice and serve as a charge carrier to conduct electric current. It is closely related to the HOMO/LUMO gap in chemistry. If the valence band is completely full and the conduction band is completely empty, then electrons cannot move in the solid; however, if some electrons transfer from the valence to the conduction band, then current can flow. Therefore, the band gap is a major factor determining the electrical conductivity of a solid. Substances with large band gaps are generally insulators, those with smaller band gaps are semiconductors, while conductors either have very small band gaps or none, because the valence and conduction bands overlap.

In physics, a charge carrier is a particle or quasiparticle that is free to move, carrying an electric charge, especially the particles that carry electric charges in electrical conductors. Examples are electrons, ions and holes. In a conducting medium, an electric field can exert force on these free particles, causing a net motion of the particles through the medium; this is what constitutes an electric current. In conducting media, particles serve to carry charge:

This article is about ionizing radiation detectors. For information about semiconductor detectors in radio, see Detector (radio), Crystal detector, Semiconductor diodes, and Rectifier.

Semimetal material with a very small overlap between the bottom of the conduction band and the top of the valence band

A semimetal is a material with a very small overlap between the bottom of the conduction band and the top of the valence band. According to electronic band theory, solids can be classified as insulators, semiconductors, semimetals, or metals. In insulators and semiconductors the filled valence band is separated from an empty conduction band by a band gap. For insulators, the magnitude of the band gap is larger than that of a semiconductor. Because of the slight overlap between the conduction and valence bands, semimetal has no band gap and a negligible density of states at the Fermi level. A metal, by contrast, has an appreciable density of states at the Fermi level because the conduction band is partially filled.

High-electron-mobility transistor

A High-electron-mobility transistor (HEMT), also known as heterostructure FET (HFET) or modulation-doped FET (MODFET), is a field-effect transistor incorporating a junction between two materials with different band gaps as the channel instead of a doped region. A commonly used material combination is GaAs with AlGaAs, though there is wide variation, dependent on the application of the device. Devices incorporating more indium generally show better high-frequency performance, while in recent years, gallium nitride HEMTs have attracted attention due to their high-power performance. Like other FETs, HEMTs are used in integrated circuits as digital on-off switches. FETs can also be used as amplifiers for large amounts of current using a small voltage as a control signal. Both of these uses are made possible by the FET’s unique current-voltage characteristics. HEMT transistors are able to operate at higher frequencies than ordinary transistors, up to millimeter wave frequencies, and are used in high-frequency products such as cell phones, satellite television receivers, voltage converters, and radar equipment. They are widely used in satellite receivers, in low power amplifiers and in the defense industry.

Organic semiconductors are solids whose building blocks are pi-bonded molecules or polymers made up by carbon and hydrogen atoms and – at times – heteroatoms such as nitrogen, sulfur and oxygen. They exist in form of molecular crystals or amorphous thin films. In general, they are electrical insulators, but become semiconducting when charges are either injected from appropriate electrodes, upon doping or by photoexcitation.

Planar process

The planar process is a manufacturing process used in the semiconductor industry to build individual components of a transistor, and in turn, connect those transistors together. It is the primary process by which silicon integrated circuit chips are built. The process utilizes the surface passivation and thermal oxidation methods.

Organic field-effect transistor

An organic field-effect transistor (OFET) is a field-effect transistor using an organic semiconductor in its channel. OFETs can be prepared either by vacuum evaporation of small molecules, by solution-casting of polymers or small molecules, or by mechanical transfer of a peeled single-crystalline organic layer onto a substrate. These devices have been developed to realize low-cost, large-area electronic products and biodegradable electronics. OFETs have been fabricated with various device geometries. The most commonly used device geometry is bottom gate with top drain and source electrodes, because this geometry is similar to the thin-film silicon transistor (TFT) using thermally grown SiO2 as gate dielectric. Organic polymers, such as poly(methyl-methacrylate) (PMMA), can also be used as dielectric.


An intrinsic(pure) semiconductor, also called an undoped semiconductor or i-type semiconductor, is a pure semiconductor without any significant dopant species present. The number of charge carriers is therefore determined by the properties of the material itself instead of the amount of impurities. In intrinsic semiconductors the number of excited electrons and the number of holes are equal: n = p. This may even be the case after doping the semiconductor, though only if it is doped with both donors and acceptors equally. In this case, n = p still holds, and the semiconductor remains intrinsic, though doped.

Capacitance–voltage profiling is a technique for characterizing semiconductor materials and devices. The applied voltage is varied, and the capacitance is measured and plotted as a function of voltage. The technique uses a metal–semiconductor junction or a p–n junction or a MOSFET to create a depletion region, a region which is empty of conducting electrons and holes, but may contain ionized donors and electrically active defects or traps. The depletion region with its ionized charges inside behaves like a capacitor. By varying the voltage applied to the junction it is possible to vary the depletion width. The dependence of the depletion width upon the applied voltage provides information on the semiconductor's internal characteristics, such as its doping profile and electrically active defect densities., Measurements may be done at DC, or using both DC and a small-signal AC signal, or using a large-signal transient voltage.

An extrinsic semiconductor is one that has been doped; during manufacture of the semiconductor crystal a trace element or chemical called a doping agent has been incorporated chemically into the crystal, for the purpose of giving it different electrical properties than the pure semiconductor crystal, which is called an intrinsic semiconductor. In an extrinsic semiconductor it is these foreign dopant atoms in the crystal lattice that mainly provide the charge carriers which carry electric current through the crystal. The doping agents used are of two types, resulting in two types of extrinsic semiconductor. An electron donor dopant is an atom which, when incorporated in the crystal, releases a mobile conduction electron into the crystal lattice. An extrinsic semiconductor which has been doped with electron donor atoms is called an n-type semiconductor, because the majority of charge carriers in the crystal are negative electrons. An electron acceptor dopant is an atom which accepts an electron from the lattice, creating a vacancy where an electron should be called a hole which can move through the crystal like a positively charged particle. An extrinsic semiconductor which has been doped with electron acceptor atoms is called a p-type semiconductor, because the majority of charge carriers in the crystal are positive holes.

A transistor is a semiconductor device with at least three terminals for connection to an electric circuit. The vacuum-tube triode, also called a (thermionic) valve, was the transistor's precursor, introduced in 1907. The principle of a field-effect transistor was proposed by Julius Edgar Lilienfeld in 1925.

In solid-state physics, a metal–semiconductor (M–S) junction is a type of electrical junction in which a metal comes in close contact with a semiconductor material. It is the oldest practical semiconductor device. M–S junctions can either be rectifying or non-rectifying. The rectifying metal–semiconductor junction forms a Schottky barrier, making a device known as a Schottky diode, while the non-rectifying junction is called an ohmic contact.

Field effect (semiconductor)

In physics, the field effect refers to the modulation of the electrical conductivity of a material by the application of an external electric field.

Field-effect transistor transistor that uses an electric field to control the electrical behaviour of the device. FETs are also known as unipolar transistors since they involve single-carrier-type operation

The field-effect transistor (FET) is an electronic device which uses an electric field to control the flow of current. FETs are devices with three terminals: source, gate, and drain. FETs control the flow of current by the application of a voltage to the gate, which in turn alters the conductivity between the drain and source.

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Further reading