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SEMICONDUCTOR THEORY

To understand why solid-state devices function as they do, we will have to examine closely the composition and nature of semiconductors. This entails theory that is fundamental to the study of solid-state devices.

Rather than beginning with theory, let's first become reacquainted with some of the basic information you studied earlier concerning matter and energy (NEETS, Module 1).

ATOMIC STRUCTURE

The universe, as we know it today, is divided into two parts: matter and energy. Matter, which is our main concern at this time, is anything that occupies space and has weight. Rocks, water, air, automobiles, clothing, and even our own bodies are good examples of matter. From this, we can conclude that matter may be found in any one of three states: SOLIDS, LIQUIDS, and GASES. All matter is composed of either an element or combination of elements. As you know, an element is a substance that cannot be reduced to a simpler form by chemical means. Examples of elements with which you are in contact everyday are iron, gold, silver, copper, and oxygen. At present, there are over 100 known elements of which all matter is composed.

As we work our way down the size scale, we come to the atom, the smallest particle into which an element can be broken down and still retain all its original properties. The atoms of one element, however, differ from the atoms of all other elements. Since there are over 100 known elements, there must be over 100 different atoms, or a different atom for each element.

Now let us consider more than one element at a time. This brings us to the term "compound." A compound is a chemical combination of two or more elements. Water, table salt, ethyl alcohol, and ammonia are all examples of compounds. The smallest part of a compound, which has all the characteristics of the compound, is the molecule. Each molecule contains some of the atoms of each of the elements forming the compound.

Consider sugar, for example. Sugar in general terms is matter, since it occupies space and has weight. It is also a compound because it consists of two or more elements. Take a lump of sugar and crush it into small particles; each of the particles still retains its original identifying properties of sugar. The only thing that changed was the physical size of the sugar. If we continue this subdividing process by grinding the sugar into a fine power, the results are the same. Even dissolving sugar in water does not change its identifying properties, in spite of the fact that the particles of sugar are now too small to be seen even with a microscope. Eventually, we end up with a quantity of sugar that cannot be further divided without its ceasing to be sugar. This quantity is known as a molecule of sugar. If the molecule is further divided, it is found to consist of three simpler kinds of matter: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. These simpler forms are called elements. Therefore, since elements consist of atoms, then a molecule of sugar is made up of atoms of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.

As we investigate the atom, we find that it is basically composed of electrons, protons, and neutrons. Furthermore, the electrons, protons, and neutrons of one element are identical to those of any other element. There are different kinds of elements because the number and the arrangement of electrons and protons are different for each element.

The electron carries a small negative charge of electricity. The proton carries a positive charge of electricity equal and opposite to the charge of the electron. Scientists have measured the mass and size of the electron and proton, and they know how much charge each possesses. Both the electron and proton have the same quantity of charge, although the mass of the proton is approximately 1,827 times that of the electron. In some atoms there exists a neutral particle called a neutron. The neutron has a mass approximately equal to that of a proton, but it has no electrical charge.

According to theory, the electrons, protons, and neutrons of the atoms are thought to be arranged in a manner similar to a miniature solar system. Notice the helium atom in figure 1-2. Two protons and two neutrons form the heavy nucleus with a positive charge around which two very light electrons revolve. The path each electron takes around the nucleus is called an orbit. The electrons are continuously being acted upon in their orbits by the force of attraction of the nucleus. To maintain an orbit around the nucleus, the electrons travel at a speed that produces a counterforce equal to the attraction force of the nucleus. Just as energy is required to move a space vehicle away from the earth, energy is also required to move an electron away from the nucleus. Like a space vehicle, the electron is said to be at a higher energy level when it travels a larger orbit. Scientific experiments have shown that the electron requires a certain amount of energy to stay in orbit. This quantity is called the electron's energy level. By virtue of just its motion alone, the electron contains kinetic energy. Because of its position, it also contains potential energy. The total energy contained by an electron (kinetic energy plus potential energy) is the main factor that determines the radius of the electron's orbit. For an electron to remain in this orbit, it must neither gain nor lose energy.

Figure 1-2. - The composition of a simple helium atom.

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The orbiting electrons do not follow random paths, instead they are confined to definite energy levels. Visualize these levels as shells with each successive shell being spaced a greater distance from the nucleus. The shells, and the number of electrons required to fill them, may be predicted by using Pauli's exclusion principle. Simply stated, this principle specifies that each shell will contain a maximum of 2n2 electrons, where n corresponds to the shell number starting with the one closest to the nucleus. By this principle, the second shell, for example, would contain 2(2)2 or 8 electrons when full.

In addition to being numbered, the shells are also given letter designations starting with the shell closest to the nucleus and progressing outward as shown in figure 1-3. The shells are considered to be full, or complete, when they contain the following quantities of electrons: 2 in the K(1st) shell, 8 in the L(2nd) shell, 18 in the M(3rd) shell, and so on, in accordance with the exclusion principle. Each of these shells is a major shell and can be divided into subshells, of which there are four, labeled s, p, d, and f. Like the major shells, the subshells are also limited as to the number of electrons they contain. Thus, the "s" subshell is complete when it contains 2 electrons, the "p" subshell when it contains 6, the "d" subshell when it contains 10, and the "f" subshell when it contains 14 electrons.

Figure 1-3. - Shell designation.

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Inasmuch as the K shell can contain no more than 2 electrons, it must have only one subshell, the s subshell. The M shell is composed of three subshells: s, p, and d. If the electrons in the s, p, and d subshells are added together, their total is found to be 18, the exact number required to fill the M shell. Notice the electron configuration of copper illustrated in figure 1-4. The copper atom contains 29 electrons, which completely fill the first three shells and subshells, leaving one electron in the "s" subshell of the N shell. A list of all the other known elements, with the number of electrons in each atom, is contained in the PERIODIC TABLE OF ELEMENTS. The periodic table of elements is included in appendix 2.

Figure 1-4. - Copper atom.

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Valence is an atom's ability to combine with other atoms. The number of electrons in the outermost shell of an atom determines its valence. For this reason, the outer shell of an atom is called VALENCE SHELL, and the electrons contained in this shell are called VALENCE ELECTRONS. The valence of an atom determines its ability to gain or lose an electron, which in turn determines the chemical and electrical properties of the atom. An atom that is lacking only one or two electrons from its outer shell will easily gain electrons to complete its shell, but a large amount of energy is required to free any of its electrons. An atom having a relatively small number of electrons in its outer shell in comparison to the number of electrons required to fill the shell will easily lose these valence electrons. The valence shell always refers to the outermost shell.

Q.5 Define matter and list its three different states. answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.6 What is the smallest particle into which an element can be broken down and still retain all its original properties? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.7 What are the three particles that comprise an atom and state the type of charge they hold? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.8 What is the outer shell of an atom called? answer.gif (214 bytes)




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