If you like us, please share us on social media.
The latest UCD Hyperlibrary newsletter is now complete, check it out.

The SolarWiki > The Science of Solar > Solar Basics > D. P-N Junction Diodes > I. P-Type, N-Type Semiconductors

Copyright (c) 2006-2014 MindTouch Inc.

This file and accompanying files are licensed under the MindTouch Master Subscription Agreement (MSA).

At any time, you shall not, directly or indirectly: (i) sublicense, resell, rent, lease, distribute, market, commercialize or otherwise transfer rights or usage to: (a) the Software, (b) any modified version or derivative work of the Software created by you or for you, or (c) MindTouch Open Source (which includes all non-supported versions of MindTouch-developed software), for any purpose including timesharing or service bureau purposes; (ii) remove or alter any copyright, trademark or proprietary notice in the Software; (iii) transfer, use or export the Software in violation of any applicable laws or regulations of any government or governmental agency; (iv) use or run on any of your hardware, or have deployed for use, any production version of MindTouch Open Source; (v) use any of the Support Services, Error corrections, Updates or Upgrades, for the MindTouch Open Source software or for any Server for which Support Services are not then purchased as provided hereunder; or (vi) reverse engineer, decompile or modify any encrypted or encoded portion of the Software.

A complete copy of the MSA is available at http://www.mindtouch.com/msa

I. P-Type, N-Type Semiconductors

Table of Contents

p-n junction diodes are made up of two adjacent pieces of p-type and n-type semiconducting materials. p-type and n-type materials are simply semiconductors, such as silicon (Si) or germanium (Ge), with atomic impurities; the type of impurity present determines the type of the semiconductor. The process of purposefully adding impurities to materials is called doping; semiconductors with impurities are referred to as "doped semiconductors".


In a pure (intrinsic) Si or Ge semiconductor, each nucleus uses its four valence electrons to form four covalent bonds with its neighbors (see figure below). Each ionic core, consisting of the nucleus and non-valent electrons, has a net charge of +4, and is surrounded by 4 valence electrons. Since there are no excess electrons or holes In this case, the number of electrons and holes present at any given time will always be equal.

Intrinsic semiconductor.jpg

An intrinsic semiconductor. Note each +4 ion is surrounded by four electrons.

Now, if one of the atoms in the semiconductor lattice is replaced by an element with three valence electrons, such as a Group 3 element like Boron (B) or Gallium (Ga), the electron-hole balance will be changed. This impurity will only be able to contribute three valence electrons to the lattice, therefore leaving one excess hole (see figure below). Since holes will "accept" free electrons, a Group 3 impurity is also called an acceptor.

P-type semiconductor.jpg

A semiconductor doped with an acceptor. An excess hole is now present.

Because an acceptor donates excess holes, which are considered to be positively charged, a semiconductor that has been doped with an acceptor is called a p-type semiconductor; "p" stands for positive. Notice that the material as a whole remains electrically neutral. In a p-type semiconductor, current is largely carried by the holes, which outnumber the free electrons. In this case, the holes are the majority carriers, while the electrons are the minority carriers.


In addition to replacing one of the lattice atoms with a Group 3 atom, we can also replace it by an atom with five valence electrons, such as the Group 5 atoms arsenic (As) or phosphorus (P). In this case, the impurity adds five valence electrons to the lattice where it can only hold four. This means that there is now one excess electron in the lattice (see figure below). Because it donates an electron, a Group 5 impurity is called a donor. Note that the material remains electrically neutral.

N-type semiconductor.jpg

A semiconductor doped with a donor. A free electron is now present.

Donor impurities donate negatively charged electrons to the lattice, so a semiconductor that has been doped with a donor is called an n-type semiconductor; "n" stands for negative. Free electrons outnumber holes in an n-type material, so the electrons are the majority carriers and holes are the minority carriers.


  1. "Chapter 6: Diodes." Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering. 2nd ed. New York, New York: Oxford UP, 1996. 352-54. Print.
You must to post a comment.
Last modified
15:47, 17 Dec 2013


This page has no custom tags.


This page has no classifications.

Creative Commons License UC Davis SolarWiki by University of California, Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at copyright@ucdavis.edu. Terms of Use