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N-Type & P-Type Semiconductors

written by: Ricky • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 7/9/2009

Semiconductors come in a variety of flavours and can be classified as per their majority carriers or dopant types. This article explains all these differences in detail

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    Introduction

    We have covered a lot of ground starting from the basic structure of an atom to the basic concepts of semiconductors and their crystal structure; we will now take a look at the types of semiconductors.

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    Intrinsic Semiconductors

    There are two ways to define an intrinsic semiconductor. In simple words, an intrinsic semiconductor is one which is made up of a very pure semiconductor material. In more technical terminology it can stated that an intrinsic semiconductor is one where the number of holes is equal to the number of electrons in the conduction band.

    The forbidden energy gap in case of such semiconductors is very minute and even the energy available at room temperature is sufficient for the valence electrons to jump across to the conduction band.

    Another characteristic feature of an intrinsic semiconductor is that the Fermi level of such materials lies somewhere in between the valence band and the conduction band. This can be proved mathematically which is beyond the scope of discussion in this article. In case you are not familiar with the term Fermi level, it refers to that level of energy where the probability of finding an electron is 0.5 or half (remember probability is measured on a scale of 0 to 1).

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    Extrinsic Semiconductors

    These are semiconductors in which the pure state of the semiconductor material is deliberately diluted by adding very minute quantities of impurities. To be more specific, the impurities are known as dopants or doping agents. It must be kept in mind that the addition of such impurities is really very minuscule and a typical dopant could have a concentration of the order of 1 part in a hundred million parts or it is equivalent to 0.01 ppm.

    The materials chosen for doping are deliberately chosen in such a manner that either they have 5 electrons in their valence band, or they have just 3 electrons in their valence band. Accordingly such dopants are known as pentavalent or trivalent dopants respectively.

    The type of dopant also gives rise to two types of extrinsic semiconductors namely P-type and N-type semiconductors.

    A pentavalent dopant such as Antimony are known as donor impurities since they donate an extra electron in the crystal structure which is not required for covalent bonding purposes and is readily available to be shifted to the conduction band. This electron does not give rise to a corresponding hole in the valence band because it is already excess, therefore upon doping with such a material, the base material such as Germanium contains more electrons than holes, hence the nomenclature N-type intrinsic semiconductors.

    On the other hand when a trivalent dopant such as Boron is added to Germanium additional or extra holes get formed due to the exactly reverse process of what was described in the upper section. Hence this dopant which is also known as acceptor creates a P-type semiconductor.

    Hence electrons are the majority carriers (of current) in N-type while holes are minority carriers. The reverse is true of P-type semiconductors. Another difference is that whereas the Fermi level of intrinsic semiconductors is somewhere midway between the valence band and the conduction band, it shifts upwards in case of N-type while it drifts downward in case of P-type due to obvious reasons.

    Having learnt about various types of semiconductors, we will now see what happens in case the N-type and P-type semiconductor materials are joined together to form a junction known as the P-N junction and how is it useful for digital electronics.