Quantcast Semiconductor material and device properties

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The mechanism by which optical detectors convert optical power into electrical current requires knowledge of semiconductor material and device properties. As stated in chapter 6, providing a complete description of these properties is beyond the scope of this manual. In this chapter we only discuss the general properties of semiconductor PINs and APDs.

Semiconductor detectors are designed so that optical energy (photons) incident on the detector active area produces a current. This current is called a photocurrent. The particular properties of the semiconductor are determined by the materials used and the layering of the materials within the device. Silicon (Si), gallium arsenide (GaAs), germanium (Ge), and indium phosphide (InP) are the most common semiconductor materials used in optical detectors. In some cases aluminum (Al) and indium (In) are used as dopants in the base semiconductor material.


Responsivity is the ratio of the optical detector's output photocurrent in amperes to the incident optical power in watts. The responsivity of a detector is a function of the wavelength of the incident light and the efficiency of the device in responding to that wavelength. For a particular material, only photons of certain wavelengths will generate a photocurrent when they are absorbed. Additionally, the detector material absorbs some wavelengths better than others. These two properties cause the wavelength dependence in the detector responsivity. Responsivity is a useful parameter for characterizing detector performance because it relates the photocurrent generated to the incident optical power.

Q.8 What are the four most common materials used in semiconductor detector fabrication?
Q.9 What is a photocurrent?
Q.10 Define responsivity.


A PIN photodiode is a semiconductor positive-negative (p-n) structure with an intrinsic region sandwiched between the other two regions (see figure 7-2). It is normally operated by applying a reverse-bias voltage. The magnitude of the reverse-bias voltage depends on the photodiode application, but typically is less than a few volts. When no light is incident on the photodiode, a current is still produced. This current is called the dark current.

The dark current is the leakage current that flows when a reverse bias is applied and no light is incident on the photodiode. Dark current is dependent on temperature. While dark current may initially be low, it will increase as the device temperature increases.

Figure 7-2. - The basic structure of a PIN photodiode. 

Q.11 How are PIN photodiodes usually biased?
Q.12 What is the dark current?
Q.13 Will dark current increase or decrease as the temperature of the photodiode increases?

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