Semiconductors are either solid or liquid material, able to conduct electricity at room temperature more readily than an insulator, but less easily than a metal. Electrical conductivity, which is the ability to conduct electrical current under the application of a voltage, has one of the widest ranges of values of any physical property of matter. Such metals as copper, silver, and aluminum are excellent conductors, but such insulators as diamond and glass are very poor conductors. At low temperatures, pure semiconductors behave like insulators. Under higher temperatures or light or with the addition of impurities, however, the conductivity of semiconductors can be increased dramatically, reaching levels that may approach those of metals. The physical properties of semiconductors are studied in solid-state physics. (Encarta 2) Silicon is the raw material most often used in integrated circuit (IC) fabrication. It is the second most abundant substance on the earth. It is extracted from rocks and common beach sand and put through an exhaustive purification process. In this form, silicon is the purist industrial substance that man produces, with impurities comprising less than one part in a billion. That is the equivalent of one tennis ball in a string of golf balls stretching from the earth to the moon. Semiconductors are usually materials which have energy-band gaps smaller than 2eV. An important property of semiconductors is the ability to change their resistivity over several orders of magnitude by doping. Semiconductors have electrical resistivities between 10-5 and 107 ohms. (Brown 956) Semiconductors can be crystalline or amorphous. Elemental semiconductors are simple-element semiconductor materials such as silicon or germanium. Silicon is the most common semiconductor material used today. It is used for diodes, transistors, integrated circuits, memories, infrared detection and lenses, light-emitting diodes (LED), photosensors, strain gages, solar cells, charge transfer devices, radiation detectors and a variety of other devices. Silicon belongs to the group IV in the periodic table. It is a grey brittle material with a diamond cubic structure. Silicon is conventionally doped with Phosphorus, Arsenic and Antimony and Boron, Aluminum, and Gallium acceptors. The energy gap of silicon is 1.1 eV. This value permits the operation of silicon semiconductors devices at higher temperatures than germanium. (Encarta 6) In the early 1900's before integrated circuits and silicon chips were invented, computers and radios were made with vacuum tubes. The vacuum tube was invented in 1906 by: Dr.Lee DeForest. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, vacuum tubes were used to conduct, modulate and amplify electrical signals. They made possible a variety of new products including the radio and the computer. However vacuum tubes had some inherent problems. They were bulky, delicate and expensive, consumed a great deal of power, took time to warm up, got very hot, and eventually burned out. The first digital computer contained 18,000 vacuum tubes, weighed 50 tins, and required 140 kilowatts of power. By the 1930's, researchers at the Bell Telephone Laboratories were looking for a replacement for the vacuum tube. They began studying the electrical properties of semiconductors which are non-metallic substances, such as silicon, that are neither conductors of electricity, like metal, nor insulators like wood, but whose electrical properties lie between these extremes. (Source 1) By 1947 the transistor was invented. The Bell Labs research team sought a way of directly altering the electrical properties of semiconductor material. They learned they could change and control these properties by "doping" the semiconductor, or infusing it with selected elements, heated to a gaseous phase. When the semiconductor was also heated, atoms from the gases would seep into it and modify its pure, crystal structure by displacing some atoms. Because...
Bibliography: 1. Semiconductors: Diodes and Transistors. http://www.qsl.net/vu2msy/semiconductors.htm (October 14, 2003)
2. Brown, LeMay, and Bursten. Chemistry The Central Science: Ninth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
3. Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2000
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