A diode is a two terminal electronic component that conducts current primarily in one direction (asymmetric conductance); it has low (ideally zero) resistance in one direction, and high (ideally infinite) resistance in the other. A vacuum tube diode utilizes thermionic emission of electrons and unidirectional conduction between the cathode and plate. A semiconductor diode, the most common 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.Main functions
The most common function of a diode is to allow an electric current to pass in one direction (called the diode’s forward direction), while blocking it in the opposite direction (the reverse direction). As such, the diode can be viewed as an electronic version of a check valve. This unidirectional behavior is called rectification, and is used to convert alternating current (ac) to direct current (dc). Forms of rectifiers, diodes can be used for such tasks as extracting modulation from radio signals in radio receivers.
However, diodes can have more complicated behavior than this simple on–off action, because of their nonlinear current-voltage characteristics. Semiconductor diodes begin conducting electricity only if a certain threshold voltage or cut-in voltage is present in the forward direction (a state in which the diode is said to be forward-biased). The voltage drop across a forward-biased diode varies only a little with the current, and is a function of temperature; this effect can be used as a temperature sensor or as a voltage reference.
A semiconductor diode’s current–voltage characteristic can be tailored by selecting the semiconductor materials and the doping impurities introduced into the materials during manufacture. These techniques are used to create special-purpose diodes that perform many different functions. For example, diodes are used to regulate voltage (Zener diodes), to protect circuits from high voltage surges (avalanche diodes), to electronically tune radio and TV receivers (varactor diodes), to generate radio-frequency oscillations (tunnel diodes, Gunn diodes, IMPATT diodes), and to produce light (light-emitting diodes). Tunnel, Gunn and IMPATT diodes exhibit negative resistance, which is useful in microwave and switching circuits.
Diodes, both vacuum and semiconductor, can be used as shot-noise generators.
Working Principle of Diode
N-side will have a significant number of electrons, and very few holes (due to thermal excitation) whereas the p side will have a high concentration of holes and very few electrons. Due to this, a process called diffusion takes place. In this process free electrons from n side will diffuse (spread) into the p side and recombine with holes present there, leaving positive immobile (not moveable) ions in n side and creating negative immobile ions in p side of the diode.
Hence, there will be uncovered positive donor ions in n-type side near the junction edge. Similarly, there will be uncovered negative acceptor ions in p-type side near the junction edge. Due to this, numbers of positive ions and negative ions will accumulate on n-side and p-side respectively. This region so formed is called as depletion region due to the “depletion” of free carriers in the region. Due to the presence of these positive and negative ions a static electric field called as barrier potential is created across the pn junction of the diode. It is called as “barrier potential” because it acts as a barrier and opposes the further migration of holes and electrons across the junction.
Forward Biased Diode
In a PN junction diode when the forward voltage is applied i.e. positive terminal of a source is connected to the p-type side, and the negative terminal of the source is connected to the n-type side, the diode is said to be in forward biased condition. We know that there is a barrier potential across the junction. This barrier potential is directed in the opposite of the forward applied voltage. So a diode can only allow current to flow in the forward direction when forward applied voltage is more than barrier potential of the junction. This voltage is called forward biased voltage. For silicon diode, it is 0.7 volts. For germanium diode, it is 0.3 volts. When forward applied voltage is more than this forward biased voltage, there will be forward current in the diode, and the diode will become short circuited. Hence, there will be no more voltage drop across the diode beyond this forward biased voltage, and forward current is only limited by the external
resistance connected in series with the diode. Thus, if forward applied voltage increases from zero, the diode will start conducting only after this voltage reaches just above the barrier potential or forward biased voltage of the junction. The time, taken by this input voltage to reach that value or in other words, the time, taken by this input voltage to overcome the forward biased voltage is called recovery time.
Reverse Biased Diode
Now if the diode is reverse biased i.e. positive terminal of the source is connected to the n-type end, and the negative terminal of the source is connected to the p-type end of the diode, there will be no current through the diode except reverse saturation current. This is because at the reverse biased condition the depilation layer of the junction becomes wider with increasing reverse biased voltage. Although there is a tiny current flowing from n-type end to p-type end in the diode due to minority carriers. This tiny current is called reverse saturation current. Minority carriers are mainly thermally generated electrons and holes in
p-type semiconductor and n-type semiconductor respectively. Now if reverse applied voltage across the diode is continually increased, then after certain applied voltage the depletion layer will destroy which will cause a huge reverse current to flow through the diode. If this current is not externally limited and it reaches beyond the safe value, the diode may be permanently destroyed. This is because, as the magnitude of the reverse voltage increases, the kinetic energy of the minority charge carriers also increase. These fast moving electrons collide with the other atoms in the device to knock-off some more electrons from them. The electrons so released further release much more electrons from the atoms by breaking the covalent bonds. This process is termed as carrier multiplication and leads to a considerable increase in the flow of current through the p-n junction. The associated phenomenon is called Avalanche Breakdown.