FHSST Physics/Electronics/Active Circuit Elements
active circuit elements, diode, LED and field effect transistor, operational amplifier
A diode functions as the electronic version of a one-way valve. By restricting the direction of movement of charge carriers, it allows an electric current to flow in one direction, but blocks it in the opposite direction. It is a one-way street for current.
Diode behavior is analogous to the behavior of a hydraulic device called a check valve. A check valve allows fluid flow through it in one direction only:
Check valves are essentially pressure-operated devices: they open and allow flow if the pressure across them is of the correct "polarity" to open the gate (in the analogy shown, greater fluid pressure on the right than on the left). If the pressure is of the opposite "polarity," the pressure difference across the check valve will close and hold the gate so that no flow occurs.
Like check valves, diodes are essentially "pressure-" operated (voltage-operated) devices. The essential difference between forward-bias and reverse-bias is the polarity of the voltage dropped across the diode. Let's take a closer look at the simple battery-diode-lamp circuit shown earlier, this time investigating voltage drops across the various components:
When the diode is forward-biased and conducting current, there is a small voltage dropped across it, leaving most of the battery voltage dropped across the lamp. When the battery's polarity is reversed and the diode becomes reverse-biased, it drops all of the battery's voltage and leaves none for the lamp. If we consider the diode to be a sort of self-actuating switch (closed in the forward-bias mode and open in the reverse-bias mode), this behavior makes sense. The most substantial difference here is that the diode drops a lot more voltage when conducting than the average mechanical switch (0.7 volts versus tens of millivolts).
This forward-bias voltage drop exhibited by the diode is due to the action of the depletion region formed by the P-N junction under the influence of an applied voltage. When there is no voltage applied across a semiconductor diode, a thin depletion region exists around the region of the P-N junction, preventing current through it. The depletion region is for the most part devoid of available charge carriers and so acts as an insulator:
A light-emitting diode (LED) is a semiconductor device that emits light when charge flows in the correct direction through it. If you apply a voltage to force current to flow in the direction the LED allows it will light up.
This notation of having two small arrows pointing away from the device is common to the schematic symbols of all light-emitting semiconductor devices. Conversely, if a device is light-activated (meaning that incoming light stimulates it), then the symbol will have two small arrows pointing toward it. It is interesting to note, though, that LEDs are capable of acting as light-sensing devices: they will generate a small voltage when exposed to light, much like a solar cell on a small scale. This property can be gainfully applied in a variety of light-sensing circuits.
The color depends on the semiconducting material used to construct the LED, and can be in the near-ultraviolet, visible or infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum.
|Nick Holonyak Jr. (1928 ) of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign develope the first practical visible-spectrum LED in 1962.|
Because LEDs are made of different chemical substances than normal rectifying diodes, their forward voltage drops will be different. Typically, LEDs have much larger forward voltage drops than rectifying diodes, anywhere from about 1.6 volts to over 3 volts, depending on the color. Typical operating current for a standard-sized LED is around 20 mA. When operating an LED from a DC voltage source greater than the LED's forward voltage, a series-connected "dropping" resistor must be included to prevent full source voltage from damaging the LED. Consider this example circuit:
With the LED dropping 1.6 volts, there will be 4.4 volts dropped across the resistor. Sizing the resistor for an LED current of 20 mA is as simple as taking its voltage drop (4.4 volts) and dividing by circuit current (20 mA), in accordance with Ohm's Law (R = E/I). This gives us a figure of 220 Ω. Calculating power dissipation for this resistor, we take its voltage drop and multiply by its current (P=IE), and end up with 88 mW, well within the rating of a 1/8 watt resistor. Higher battery voltages will require larger-value dropping resistors, and possibly higher-power rating resistors as well. Consider this example for a supply voltage of 24 volts:
Here, the dropping resistor must be increased to a size of 1.12 kΩ in order to drop 22.4 volts at 20 mA so that the LED still receives only 1.6 volts. This also makes for a higher resistor power dissipation: 448 mW, nearly one-half a watt of power! Obviously, a resistor rated for 1/8 watt power dissipation or even 1/4 watt dissipation will overheat if used here.
Dropping resistor values need not be precise for LED circuits. Suppose we were to use a 1 kΩ resistor instead of a 1.12 kΩ resistor in the circuit shown above. The result would be a slightly greater circuit current and LED voltage drop, resulting in a brighter light from the LED and slightly reduced service life. A dropping resistor with too much resistance (say, 1.5 kΩ instead of 1.12 kΩ) will result in less circuit current, less LED voltage, and a dimmer light. LEDs are quite tolerant of variation in applied power, so you need not strive for perfection in sizing the dropping resistor.
Also because of their unique chemical makeup, LEDs have much, much lower peak-inverse voltage (PIV) ratings than ordinary rectifying diodes. A typical LED might only be rated at 5 volts in reverse-bias mode. Therefore, when using alternating current to power an LED, you should connect a protective rectifying diode in series with the LED to prevent reverse breakdown every other half-cycle:
The wavelength of the light emitted, and therefore its color, depends on the materials forming the pn junction. A normal diode, typically made of silicon or germanium, emits invisible far-infrared light (so it can't be seen), but the materials used for an LED have emit light corresponding to near-infrared, visible or near-ultraviolet frequencies.
Considerations in use
Unlike incandescent light bulbs, which can operate with either AC or DC, LEDs require a DC supply of the correct electrical polarity. When the voltage across the pn junction is in the correct direction, a significant current flows and the device is said to be forward biased. The voltage across the LED in this case is fixed for a given LED and is proportional to the energy of the emitted photons. If the voltage is of the wrong polarity, the device is said to be reverse biased, very little current flows, and no light is emitted.
Because the voltage versus current characteristics of an LED are much like any diode, they can be destroyed by connecting them to a voltage source much higher than their turn on voltage.
The voltage drop across a forward biased LED increases as the amount of light emitted increases because of the optical power being radiated. One consequence is that LEDs of the same type can be readily operated in parallel. The turn-on voltage of an LED is a function of the color, a higher forward drop is associated with emitting higher energy (bluer) photons. The reverse voltage that most LEDs can sustain without damage is usually only a few volts. Some LED units contain two diodes, one in each direction and each a different color (typically red and green), allowing two-color operation or a range of colors to be created by altering the percentage of time the voltage is in each polarity.
LED development began with infrared and red devices made with gallium arsenide. Advances in materials science have made possible the production of devices with ever shorter wavelengths, producing light in a variety of colors.
Conventional LEDs are made from a variety of inorganic minerals, producing the following colors:
- aluminium gallium arsenide (AlGaAs): red and infrared
- gallium arsenide/phosphide (GaAsP): red, orange-red, orange, and yellow
- gallium nitride (GaN): green, pure green (or emerald green), and blue
- gallium phosphide (GaP): red, yellow and green
- zinc selenide (ZnSe): blue
- indium gallium nitride (InGaN): bluish-green and blue
- silicon carbide (SiC): blue
- diamond (C): ultraviolet
- silicon (Si) - under development
Note to self: The above list is taken from public sources, but at least one LED given as blue does not produce blue light. (There is a good chance that almost none do, because of the higher frequency of blue.) This is a common problem in daily life due to the majority of mankind being ignorant of colour theory and conflating blue with light blue with cyan, the latter often called "sky blue". A cyan LED may be distinguished from a blue LED in that adding a yellow phosphor to the output makes green, rather than white light. And often aqua is called blue-green when in actuality the latter is cyan, and light cyan-green would be aqua. What adds to the confusion is that cyan LEDs are enclosed in blue plastic. A great amount of work is needed to dispel these intuitive myths of colour mixing before accurate descriptions of physical phenomena and their production can happen. - This needs to be sorted out
Blue and white LEDs and Other colors
Commercially viable blue LEDs based invented by Shuji Nakamura while working in Japan at Nichia Corporation in 1993 and became widely available in the late 1990s. They can be added to existing red and green LEDs to produce white light.
Most "white" LEDs in production today use a 450 nm & 470 nm blue GaN (gallium nitride) LED covered by a yellowish phosphor coating usually made of cerium doped yttrium aluminium garnet (YAG:Ce) crystals which have been powdered and bound in a type of viscous adhesive. The LED chip emits blue light, part of which is converted to yellow by the YAG:Ce. The single crystal form of YAG:Ce is actually considered a scintillator rather than a phosphor. Since yellow light stimulates the red and green receptors of the eye, the resulting mix of blue and yellow light gives the appearance of white.
The newest method used to produce white light LEDs uses no phosphors at all and is based on homoepitaxially grown zinc selenide (ZnSe) on a ZnSe substrate which simultaneously emits blue light from its active region and yellow light from the substrate.
Recent color developments include pink and purple. They consist of one or two phosphor layers over a blue LED chip. The first phosphor layer of a pink LED is a yellow glowing one, and the second phosphor layer is either red or orange glowing. Purple LEDs are blue LEDs with an orange glowing phosphor over the chip. Some pink LEDs have run into issues. For example, some are blue LEDs painted with fluorescent paint or fingernail polish that can wear off, and some are white LEDs with a pink phosphor or dye that unfortunately fades after a short tme.
Ultraviolet, blue, pure green, white, pink and purple LEDs are relatively expensive compared to the more common reds, oranges, greens, yellows and infrareds and are thus less commonly used in commercial applications.
The semiconducting chip is encased in a solid plastic lens, which is much tougher than the glass envelope of a traditional light bulb or tube. The plastic may be colored, but this is only for cosmetic reasons and does not affect the color of the light emitted.
Operational parameters and efficiency
Most typical LEDs are designed to operate with no more than 30-60 milliwatts of electrical power. It is projected that by 2005, 10-watt units will be available. These devices will produce about as much light as a common 50-watt incandescent bulb, and will facilitate use of LEDs for general illumination needs.
|In September 2003 a new type of blue LED was demonstrated by the company Cree, Inc. to have 35% efficiency at 20 mA. This produced a commercially packaged white light having 65 lumens per watt at 20 mA, becoming the brightest white LED commercially available at the time.|
Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs)
If the emissive layer material of an LED is an organic compound, it is known as an Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED). To function as a semiconductor, the organic emissive material must have conjugated pi bonds. The emissive material can be a small organic molecule in a crystalline phase, or a polymer. Polymer materials can be flexible such LEDs are known as PLEDs or FLEDs.
Compared with regular LEDs, OLEDs are lighter and polymer LEDs can have the added benefit of being flexible. Some possible future applications of OLEDs could be:
- Light sources
- Wall decorations
- Luminous cloth
- Computer screens
Here is a list of known applications for LEDs, some of which are further elaborated upon in the following text:
- in general, commonly used as information indicators in various types of embedded systems (many of which are listed below)
- thin, lightweight message displays, e.g. in public information signs (at airports and railway stations, among other places)
- status indicators, e.g. on/off lights on professional instruments and consumers audio/video equipment
- infrared LEDs in remote controls (for TVs, VCRs, etc.)
- clusters in traffic signals, replacing ordinary bulbs behind colored glass
- car indicator lights and bicycle lighting also for pedestrians to be seen by car traffic
- calculator and measurement instrument displays (seven segment displays), although now mostly replaced by LCDs
- red or yellow LEDs are used in indicator and [alpha]numeric displays in environments where night vision must be retained: aircraft cockpits, submarine and ship bridges, astronomy observatories, and in the field, e.g. night time animal watching and military field use
- red or yellow LEDs are also used in photographic darkrooms, for providing lighting which does not lead to unwanted exposure of the film
- illumination, e.g. flashlights (a.k.a. torches, UK), and backlights for LCD screens
- signaling/emergency beacons and strobes
- movement sensors, e.g. in mechanical and optical computer mice and trackballs
- in LED printers, e.g. high-end color printers
LEDs offer benefits in terms of maintenance and safety.
- The typical working lifetime of a device, including the bulb, is ten years, which is much longer than the lifetimes of most other light sources.
- LEDs fail by dimming over time, rather than the abrupt burn-out of incandescent bulbs.
- LEDs give off less heat than incandescent light bulbs and are less fragile than fluorescent lamps.
- Since an individual device is smaller than a centimetre in length, LED-based light sources used for illumination and outdoor signals are built using clusters of tens of devices.
Because they are monochromatic, LED lights have great power advantages over white lights where a specific color is required. Unlike the white lights, the LED does not need a filter that absorbs most of the emitted white light. Colored fluorescent lights are made, but they are not widely available. LED lights are inherently colored, and are available in a wide range of colors. One of the most recently introduced colors is the emerald green (bluish green, about 500 nm) that meets the legal requirements for traffic signals and navigation lights.
|The largest LED display in the world is 36 metres high (118 feet), at Times Square, New York, U.S.A.|
There are applications that specifically require light that does not contain any blue component. Examples are photographic darkroom safe lights, illumination in laboratories where certain photo-sensitive chemicals are used, and situations where dark adaptation (night vision) must be preserved, such as cockpit and bridge illumination, observatories, etc. Yellow LED lights are a good choice to meet these special requirements because the human eye is more sensitive to yellow light.
The transistor is a solid state semiconductor device used for amplification and switching, and has three terminals. The transistor itself does not amplify current though, which is a common misconception, but a small current or voltage applied to one terminal controls the current through the other two, hence the term transistor a voltage- or current-controlled resistor. It is the key component in all modern electronics. In digital circuits, transistors are used as very fast electrical switches, and arrangements of transistors can function as logic gates, RAM-type memory and other devices. In analog circuits, transistors are essentially used as amplifiers.
Transistor was also the common name in the sixties for a transistor radio, a pocket-sized portable radio that utilized transistors (rather than vacuum tubes) as its active electronics. This is still one of the dictionary definitions of transistor.
The only functional difference between a PNP transistor and an NPN transistor is the proper biasing (polarity) of the junctions when operating. For any given state of operation, the current directions and voltage polarities for each type of transistor are exactly opposite each other.
Bipolar transistors work as current-controlled current regulators. In other words, they restrict the amount of current that can go through them according to a smaller, controlling current. The main current that is controlled goes from collector to emitter, or from emitter to collector, depending on the type of transistor it is (PNP or NPN, respectively). The small current that controls the main current goes from base to emitter, or from emitter to base, once again depending on the type of transistor it is (PNP or NPN, respectively). According to the confusing standards of semiconductor symbology, the arrow always points against the direction of electron flow:
Bipolar transistors are called bipolar because the main flow of electrons through them takes place in two types of semiconductor material: P and N, as the main current goes from emitter to collector (or vice versa). In other words, two types of charge carriers - electrons and holes - comprise this main current through the transistor.
As you can see, the controlling current and the controlled current always mesh together through the emitter wire, and their electrons always flow against the direction of the transistor's arrow. This is the first and foremost rule in the use of transistors: all currents must be going in the proper directions for the device to work as a current regulator. The small, controlling current is usually referred to simply as the base current because it is the only current that goes through the base wire of the transistor. Conversely, the large, controlled current is referred to as the collector current because it is the only current that goes through the collector wire. The emitter current is the sum of the base and collector currents, in compliance with Kirchhoff's Current Law.
If there is no current through the base of the transistor, it shuts off like an open switch and prevents current through the collector. If there is a base current, then the transistor turns on like a closed switch and allows a proportional amount of current through the collector. Collector current is primarily limited by the base current, regardless of the amount of voltage available to push it. The next section will explore in more detail the use of bipolar transistors as switching elements.
The transistor is considered by many to be one of the greatest discoveries or inventions in modern history, ranking with banking and the printing press. Key to the importance of the transistor in modern society is its ability to be produced in huge numbers using simple techniques, resulting in vanishingly small prices. Computer "chips" consist of millions of transistors and sell for rands, with per-transistor costs in the thousandths-of-cents.
The low cost has meant that the transistor has become an almost universal tool for non-mechanical tasks. Whereas a common device, say a refrigerator, would have used a mechanical device for control, today it is often less expensive to simply use a few million transistors and the appropriate computer program to carry out the same task through "brute force". Today transistors have replaced almost all electromechanical devices, most simple feedback systems, and appear in huge numbers in everything from computers to cars.
Hand-in-hand with low cost has been the increasing move to "digitizing" all information. With transistorized computers offering the ability to quickly find (and sort) digital information, more and more effort was put into making all information digital. Today almost all media in modern society is delivered in digital form, converted and presented by computers. Common "analog" forms of information such as television or newspapers spend the vast majority of their time as digital information, being converted to analog only for a small portion of the time.
The transistor as a switch
Because a transistor's collector current is proportionally limited by its base current, it can be used as a sort of current-controlled switch. A relatively small flow of electrons sent through the base of the transistor has the ability to exert control over a much larger flow of electrons through the collector. Suppose we had a lamp that we wanted to turn on and off by means of a switch. Such a circuit would be extremely simple:
For the sake of illustration, let's insert a transistor in place of the switch to show how it can control the flow of electrons through the lamp. Remember that the controlled current through a transistor must go between collector and emitter. Since it's the current through the lamp that we want to control, we must position the collector and emitter of our transistor where the two contacts of the switch are now. We must also make sure that the lamp's current will move against the direction of the emitter arrow symbol to ensure that the transistor's junction bias will be correct:
In this example I happened to choose an NPN transistor. A PNP transistor could also have been chosen for the job, and its application would look like this:
The choice between NPN and PNP is really arbitrary. All that matters is that the proper current directions are maintained for the sake of correct junction biasing (electron flow going against the transistor symbol's arrow).
Going back to the NPN transistor in our example circuit, we are faced with the need to add something more so that we can have base current. Without a connection to the base wire of the transistor, base current will be zero, and the transistor cannot turn on, resulting in a lamp that is always off. Remember that for an NPN transistor, base current must consist of electrons flowing from emitter to base (against the emitter arrow symbol, just like the lamp current). Perhaps the simplest thing to do would be to connect a switch between the base and collector wires of the transistor like this:
If the switch is open, the base wire of the transistor will be left "floating" (not connected to anything) and there will be no current through it. In this state, the transistor is said to be cutoff. If the switch is closed, however, electrons will be able to flow from the emitter through to the base of the transistor, through the switch and up to the left side of the lamp, back to the positive side of the battery. This base current will enable a much larger flow of electrons from the emitter through to the collector, thus lighting up the lamp. In this state of maximum circuit current, the transistor is said to be saturated.
Of course, it may seem pointless to use a transistor in this capacity to control the lamp. After all, we're still using a switch in the circuit, aren't we? If we're still using a switch to control the lamp - if only indirectly - then what's the point of having a transistor to control the current? Why not just go back to our original circuit and use the switch directly to control the lamp current?
There are a couple of points to be made here, actually. First is the fact that when used in this manner, the switch contacts need only handle what little base current is necessary to turn the transistor on, while the transistor itself handles the majority of the lamp's current. This may be an important advantage if the switch has a low current rating: a small switch may be used to control a relatively high-current load. Perhaps more importantly, though, is the fact that the current-controlling behavior of the transistor enables us to use something completely different to turn the lamp on or off. Consider this example, where a solar cell is used to control the transistor, which in turn controls the lamp:
Or, we could use a thermocouple to provide the necessary base current to turn the transistor on:
Even a microphone of sufficient voltage and current output could be used to turn the transistor on, provided its output is rectified from AC to DC so that the emitter-base PN junction within the transistor will always be forward-biased:
The point should be quite apparent by now: any sufficient source of DC current may be used to turn the transistor on, and that source of current need only be a fraction of the amount of current needed to energize the lamp. Here we see the transistor functioning not only as a switch, but as a true amplifier: using a relatively low-power signal to control a relatively large amount of power. Please note that the actual power for lighting up the lamp comes from the battery to the right of the schematic. It is not as though the small signal current from the solar cell, thermocouple, or microphone is being magically transformed into a greater amount of power. Rather, those small power sources are simply controlling the battery's power to light up the lamp.
Field-Effect Transistor (FET)
Note: Schematic can be found under GFDL on wikipedia
The schematic symbols for p- and n-channel MOSFETs. The symbols to the right include an extra terminal for the transistor body (allowing for a seldom-used channel bias) whereas in those to the left the body is implicitly connected to the source.
The most common variety of field-effect transistors, the enhancement-mode MOSFET (metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor) consists of a unipolar conduction channel and a metal gate separated from the main conduction channel by a thin layer of (SiO2) glass. This is why an alternative name for the FET is 'unipolar transistor.' When a potential difference (of the proper polarity) is impressed across gate and source, charge carriers are introduced to the channel, making it conductive. The amount of this current can be modulated, or (nearly) completely turned off, by varying the gate potential.
Because the gate is insulated, no DC current flows to or from the gate electrode. This lack of a gate current and the ability of the MOSFET to act like a switch, allows particularly efficient digital circuits to be created, with very low power consumption at low frequencies. The power consumption increases markedly with frequency, because the capacitive loading of the FET control terminal takes more energy to slew at higher frequencies, in direct proportion to the frequency. Hence, MOSFETs have become the dominant technology used in computing hardware such as microprocessors and memory devices such as RAM. Bipolar transistors are more rugged and hence more useful for low-impedance loads and inductively reactive (e.g. motor) loads.
Power MOSFETs become less conductive with increasing temperature and can therefore be applied in shunt, to increase current capacity, unlike the bipolar transistor, which has a negative temperature coefficient of resistance, and is therefore prone to thermal runaway. The downside of this is that, while the power FET can protect itself from overheating by diminishing the current through it, high temperatures need to be avoided by using a larger heat sink than for an equivalent bipolar device. Macroscopic FET power transistors are actually composed of many little transistors. They are stacked (on-chip) to increase breakdown potential and paralleled to reduce Ron, i.e. allowing for more current, bussing the gates to provide a single control (gate) terminal.
The depletion mode FET is a little different. It uses a back-biased diode for the control terminal, which presents a capacitive load to the driving circuit in normal operation. With the gate tied to the source, a DFET is fully on. Changing the potential of a DFET (pulling an N-channel gate downward, for example) will turn it off, i.e. 'deplete' the channel (drain-source) of charge carriers. MOSFETs, formerly called IGFETs (for Insulated Gate Field-Effect Transistor) can be depletion-mode, enhancement-mode, or mixed-mode, but are almost always enhancement mode in modern commercial practice. This means that, with the source and gate tied together (thus equipotential) the channel will be off (high impedance or non-conducting). The n-channel device (reverse for P-channel), like in the DFET, is turned on by raising the potential of the gate. Typically, the gate on a MOSFET will withstand +-20V, relative to the source terminal. If one were to raise the gate potential of an n-channel device without limiting the current to a few milliamps, one would destroy the gate diode, like any other small diode. Why do we typically think of n-channel devices as the default? In silicon devices, the ones that use majority carriers that are electrons, rather than holes, are slightly faster and can carry more current than their P-type counterparts. The same is true in GaAs devices.
The FET is simpler in concept than the bipolar transistor and can be constructed from a wide range of materials.
The most common use of MOSFET transistors today is the CMOS (complementary metallic oxide semiconductor) integrated circuit which is the basis for most digital electronic devices. These use a totem-pole arrangement where one transistor (either the pull-up or the pull-down) is on while the other is off. Hence, there is no DC drain, except during the transition from one state to the other, which is very short. As mentioned, the gates are capacitive, and the charging and discharging of the gates each time a transistor switches states is the primary cause of power drain.
The C in CMOS stands for 'complementary.' The pull-up is a P-channel device (using holes for the mobile carrier of charge) and the pull-down is N-channel (electron carriers). This allows busing of the control terminals, but limits the speed of the circuit to that of the slower P device (in silicon devices). The bipolar solutions to push-pull include 'cascode' using a current source for the load. Circuits that utilize both unipolar and bipolar transistors are called Bi-Fet. A recent development is called 'vertical P.' Formerly, BiFet chip users had to settle for relatively poor (horizontal) P-type FET devices. This is no longer the case and allows for quieter and faster analog circuits.
A clever variant of the FET is the dual-gate device. This allows for two opportunities to turn the device off, as opposed to the dual-base (bipolar) transistor which presents two opportunities to turn the device on.
FETs can switch signals of either polarity, if their amplitude is significantly less than the gate swing, as the devices (especially the parasitic diode-free DFET) are basically symmetrical. This means that FETs are the most suitable type for analog multiplexing. With this concept, one can construct a solid-state mixing board, for example.
The power MOSFET has a 'parasitic diode' (back-biased) normally shunting the conduction channel that has half the current capacity of the conduction channel. Sometimes this is useful in driving dual-coil magnetic circuits (for spike protection), but in other cases it causes problems.
The high impedance of the FET gate makes it rather vulnerable to electrostatic damage, though this is not usually a problem after the device has been installed.
A more recent device for power control is the insulated-gate bipolar transistor, or IGBT. This has a control structure akin to a MOSFET coupled with a bipolar-like main conduction channel. These have become quite popular.