A diode is a two-terminal electronic component that conducts current primarily in one direction. It has low (ideally zero) resistance in one direction, and high (ideally infinite) resistance in the other.
Pritish Kumar Halder’s takes a brief look at the two-terminal Electronic Component known as Diode
A diode vacuum tube or thermionic diode is a vacuum tube with two electrodes, a heated cathode and a plate, in which electrons can flow in only one direction, from cathode to plate.
A semiconductor diode, the most commonly used type today, is a crystalline piece of semiconductor material with a p–n junction connected to two electrical terminals. Semiconductor diodes were the first semiconductor electronic devices.
The discovery of asymmetric electrical conduction across the contact between a crystalline mineral and a metal was made by German physicist Ferdinand Braun in 1874. Today, most diodes are made of silicon, but other semiconducting materials such as gallium arsenide and germanium are also used.
Among many uses, diodes are found in rectifiers to convert AC power to DC, demodulation in radio receivers, and can even be used as temperature sensors. A common variant of a diode is a Light Emitting Diode, which is used as electric lighting and status indicators on electronic devices. Diodes may be combined with other components to form logic gates.
The most common function of a diode is to allow an electric current to pass in one direction (called the diode’s forward direction), while blocking it in the opposite direction (the reverse direction). As such, the diode can be viewed as an electronic version of a check valve. This unidirectional behavior is called rectification, and is used to convert alternating current (ac) to direct current (dc). Forms of rectifiers, diodes can be used for such tasks as extracting modulation from radio signals in radio receivers.
Vacuum tube diodes
A thermionic diode is a thermionic-valve device consisting of a sealed, evacuated glass or metal envelope containing two electrodes: a cathode and a plate. The cathode is either indirectly heated or directly heated. If indirect heating is employed, a heater is included in the envelope.
Point-contact diodes were developed starting in the 1930s, out of the early crystal detector technology, and are now generally used in the 3 to 30 gigahertz range. Point-contact diodes use a small diameter metal wire in contact with a semiconductor crystal, and are of either non-welded contact type or welded contact type.
Non-welded contact construction utilizes the Schottky barrier principle. The metal side is the pointed end of a small diameter wire that is in contact with the semiconductor crystal. In the welded contact type, a small P region is formed in the otherwise N-type crystal around the metal point during manufacture by momentarily passing a relatively large current through the device. Point contact diodes generally exhibit lower capacitance, higher forward resistance and greater reverse leakage than junction diodes.
p–n junction diode
A p–n junction diode is made of a crystal of semiconductor, usually silicon, but germanium and gallium arsenide are also used. Impurities are added to it to create a region on one side that contains negative charge carriers (electrons), called an n-type semiconductor, and a region on the other side that contains positive charge carriers (holes), called a p-type semiconductor. When the n-type and p-type materials are attached together, a momentary flow of electrons occurs from the n to the p side resulting in a third region between the two where no charge carriers are present.
This region is called the depletion region because there are no charge carriers (neither electrons nor holes) in it. The diode’s terminals are attached to the n-type and p-type regions. Boundary between these two regions called a p–n junction, is where the action of the diode takes place. When a sufficiently higher electrical potential is applied to the P side (the anode) than to the N side (the cathode), it allows electrons to flow through the depletion region from the N-type side to the P-type side. The junction does not allow the flow of electrons in the opposite direction when the potential is applied in reverse, creating, in a sense, an electrical check valve.
Types of semiconductor diode
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs)
In a diode formed from a direct band-gap semiconductor, such as gallium arsenide, charge carriers that cross the junction emit photons when they recombine with the majority carrier on the other side. Depending on the material, wavelengths (or colors) from the infrared to the near ultraviolet may be produced.
The first LEDs were red and yellow, and higher-frequency diodes have been developed over time. All LEDs produce incoherent, narrow-spectrum light; “white” LEDs are actually a blue LED with a yellow scintillator coating, or combinations of three LEDs of a different colur. LEDs can also be used as low-efficiency photodiodes in signal applications. An LED may be paired with a photodiode or phototransistor in the same package, to form an opto-isolator.
This term is used both for conventional p–n diodes used to monitor temperature because of their varying forward voltage with temperature, and for Peltier heat pumps for thermoelectric heating and cooling. Peltier heat pumps may be made from semiconductors, though they do not have any rectifying junctions, they use the differing behavior of charge carriers in N and P-type semiconductor to move heat.
All semiconductors are subject to optical charge carrier generation. This is typically an undesired effect, so most semiconductors are packaged in light-blocking material. Photodiodes are intended to sense light (photodetector), so they are packaged in materials that allow light to pass, and are usually PIN (the kind of diode most sensitive to light).
A photodiode can be used in solar cells, in photometry, or in optical communications. Multiple photodiodes may be packaged in a single device, either as a linear array or as a two-dimensional array. These arrays should not be confused with charge-coupled devices.
A PIN diode has a central un-doped, or intrinsic, layer, forming a p-type/intrinsic/n-type structure. They are used as radio frequency switches and attenuators, also used as large-volume, ionizing-radiation detectors and as photodetectors. PIN diodes are also used in power electronics, as their central layer can withstand high voltages. Furthermore, the PIN structure can be found in many power semiconductor devices, such as IGBTs, power MOSFETs, and thyristors.
These can be made to conduct in reverse bias (backward), and are correctly termed reverse breakdown diodes. This effect called Zener breakdown, occurs at a precisely defined voltage, allowing the diode to be used as a precision voltage reference. The term Zener diodes is colloquially applied to several types of breakdown diodes, but strictly speaking.
Zener diodes have a breakdown voltage of below 5 volts, whilst avalanche diodes are used for breakdown voltages above that value. In practical voltage reference circuits, Zener and switching diodes are connected in series and opposite directions to balance the temperature coefficient response of the diodes to near-zero. Some devices labelled as high-voltage Zener diodes are actually avalanche diodes (see above). Two (equivalent) Zener’s in series and in reverse order, in the same package, constitute a transient absorber.