A p–n junction. The circuit symbol is shown: the triangle corresponds to the p side.
A p–n junction is a boundary or interface between two types of semiconductor material, p-type and n-type, inside a single crystal of semiconductor. It is created by doping, for example by ion implantation, diffusion of dopants, or by epitaxy (growing a layer of crystal doped with one type of dopant on top of a layer of crystal doped with another type of dopant). 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.
p–n junctions are elementary "building blocks" of most semiconductor electronic devices such as diodes, transistors, solar cells, LEDs, and integrated circuits; they are the active sites where the electronic action of the device takes place. For example, a common type of transistor, the bipolar junction transistor, consists of two p–n junctions in series, in the form n–p–n or p–n–p.
The discovery of the p–n junction is usually attributed to American physicist Russell Ohl of Bell Laboratories. However, Vadim Lashkaryov reported discovery of --junctions in CuO and silver sulphide photocells and selenium rectifiers in 1941.
The p–n junction possesses some interesting properties that have useful applications in modern electronics. A p-doped semiconductor is relatively conductive. The same is true of an n-doped semiconductor, but the junction between them can become depleted of charge carriers, and hence non-conductive, depending on the relative voltages of the two semiconductor regions. By manipulating this non-conductive layer, p–n junctions are commonly used as diodes: circuit elements that allow a flow of electricity in one direction but not in the other (opposite) direction. Bias is the application of a voltage across a p–n junction; is in the direction of easy current flow, and is in the direction of little or no current flow.
Equilibrium (zero bias)
In a p–n junction, without an external applied voltage, an equilibrium condition is reached in which a potential difference is formed across the junction. This potential difference is called built-in potential .
After joining p-type and n-type semiconductors, electrons from the n region near the p–n interface tend to diffuse into the p region leaving behind positively charged ions in the n region and being recombined with holes, forming negatively charged ions in the p region. Likewise, holes from the p-type region near the p–n interface begin to diffuse into the n-type region, leaving behind negatively charged ions in the p region and recombining with electrons, forming positive ions in the n region. The regions near the p–n interface lose their neutrality and most of their mobile carriers, forming the space charge region or depletion layer (see figure A).Figure A. A p–n junction in thermal equilibrium with zero-bias voltage applied. Electron and hole concentration are reported with blue and red lines, respectively. Gray regions are charge-neutral. Light-red zone is positively charged. Light-blue zone is negatively charged. The electric field is shown on the bottom, the electrostatic force on electrons and holes and the direction in which the diffusion tends to move electrons and holes. (The log concentration curves should actually be smoother with slope varying with field strength.)
The electric field created by the space charge region opposes the diffusion process for both electrons and holes. There are two concurrent phenomena: the diffusion process that tends to generate more space charge, and the electric field generated by the space charge that tends to counteract the diffusion. The carrier concentration profile at equilibrium is shown in figure A with blue and red lines. Also shown are the two counterbalancing phenomena that establish equilibrium.Figure B. A p–n junction in thermal equilibrium with zero-bias voltage applied. Under the junction, plots for the charge density, the electric field, and the voltage are reported. (The log concentration curves should actually be smoother, like the voltage.)
The space charge region is a zone with a net charge provided by the fixed ions (donors or acceptors) that have been left uncovered by majority carrier diffusion. When equilibrium is reached, the charge density is approximated by the displayed step function. In fact, since the y-axis of figure A is log-scale, the region is almost completely depleted of majority carriers (leaving a charge density equal to the net doping level), and the edge between the space charge region and the neutral region is quite sharp (see figure B, Q(x) graph). The space charge region has the same magnitude of charge on both sides of the p–n interfaces, thus it extends farther on the less doped side in this example (the n side in figures A and B).
In forward bias, the p-type is connected with the positive terminal and the n-type is connected with the negative terminal.PN junction operation in forward-bias mode, showing reducing depletion width. The panels show energy band diagram, electric field, and net charge density. Both p and n junctions are doped at a 1e15/cm3 (0.00016C/cm3) doping level, leading to built-in potential of ~0.59 V. Reducing depletion width can be inferred from the shrinking charge profile, as fewer dopants are exposed with increasing forward bias.