A-level Physics (Advancing Physics)/Semiconductors

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Silicon, doped with phosphorous

A semiconductor has a conductivity between that of a conductor and an insulator. They are less conductive than metals, but differ from metals in that, as a semiconductor heats up, its conductivity rises. In metals, the opposite effect occurs.

The reason for this is that, in a semiconductor, very few atoms are ionised, and so very few electrons can move, creating an electric current. However, as the semiconductor heats up, the covalent bonds (atoms sharing electrons, causing the electrons to be relatively immobile) break down, freeing the electrons. As a result, a semiconductor's conductivity rises at an increasing rate as temperature rises.

Examples of semiconductors include silicon and germanium. A full list of semiconductor materials is available at Wikipedia. At room temperature, silicon has a conductivity of about 435 μS m-1.

Semiconductors are usually 'doped'. This means that ions are added in small quantities, giving the semiconductor a greater or lesser number of free electrons as required. This is controlled by the charge on the ions.

Questions[edit]

1. What is the resistivity of silicon, at room temperature?

2. What sort of variable resistor would a semiconductor be useful in?

3. If positive ions are added to silicon (doping it), how does its conductivity change?

Worked Solutions

See Also[edit]