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Optoelectronic Devices

OPTOELECTRONIC devices either produce light or use light in their operation. The first of these, the light-emitting diode (LED), was developed to replace the fragile, short-life incandescent light bulbs used to indicate on/off conditions on panels. A LIGHT-EMITTING DIODE is a diode which, when forward biased, produces visible light. The light may be red, green, or amber, depending upon the material used to make the diode.

Figure 3-27 shows an LED and its schematic symbol. The LED is designated by a standard diode symbol with two arrows pointing away from the cathode. The arrows indicate light leaving the diode. The circuit symbols for all optoelectronic devices have arrows pointing either toward them, if they use light, or away from them, if they produce light. The LED operating voltage is small, about 1.6 volts forward bias and generally about 10 milliamperes. The life expectancy of the LED is very long, over 100,000 hours of operation.

Figure 3-27. - LED.

LEDs are used widely as "power on" indicators of current and as displays for pocket calculators, digital voltmeters, frequency counters, etc. For use in calculators and similar devices, LEDs are typically placed together in seven-segment displays, as shown in figure 3-28 (view A and view B). This display uses seven LED segments, or bars (labeled A through G in the figure), which can be lit in different combinations to form any number from "0" through "9." The schematic, view A, shows a common-anode display. All anodes in a display are internally connected. When a negative voltage is applied to the proper cathodes, a number is formed. For example, if negative voltage is applied to all cathodes except that of LED "E," the number "9" is produced, as shown in view A of figure 3-29. If the negative voltage is changed and applied to all cathodes except LED "B," the number "9" changes to "6" as shown in view B.

Figure 3-28A. - Seven-segment LED display.

Figure 3-28B. - Seven-segment LED display.

Figure 3-29A. - Seven-segment LED display examples.

Figure 3-29B. - Seven-segment LED display examples.

Seven-segment displays are also available in common-cathode form, in which all cathodes are at the same potential. When replacing LED displays, you must ensure the replacement display is the same type as the faulty display. Since both types look alike, you should always check the manufacturer's number.

LED seven-segment displays range from the very small, often not much larger than standard typewritten numbers, to about an inch. Several displays may be combined in a package to show a series of numbers, such as the one shown in figure 3-30.

Figure 3-30. - Stacked seven-segment display.

Another special optoelectronic device in common use today is the photodiode. Unlike the LED, which produces light, the photodiode uses light to accomplish special circuit functions. Basically, the PHOTODIODE is a light-controlled variable resistor. In total darkness, it has a relatively high resistance and therefore conducts little current. However, when the PN junction is exposed to an external light source, internal resistance decreases and current flow increases. The photodiode is operated with reverse-bias and conducts current in direct proportion to the intensity of the light source.

Figure 3-31 shows a photodiode with its schematic symbol. The arrows pointing toward the symbol indicate that light is required for operation of the device. A light source is aimed at the photodiode through a transparent "window" placed over the semiconductor chip. Switching the light source on or off changes the conduction level of the photodiode. Varying the light intensity controls the amount of conduction. Because photodiodes respond quickly to changes in light intensity, they are extremely useful in digital applications such as computer card readers, paper tape readers, and photographic light meters. They are also used in some types of optical scanning equipment.

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