Excess Carriers in Semiconductors Note: These notes were written when ECE 4339 used another text, and

so the notation for excess carriers is different from what we are using now. What we are calling ∆n and ∆p is here indicated as δn and δp.
Basic Ideas When we shine light on a semiconductor (photoconductor, solar cell) or drive a current through it, the concentration of electrons and holes changes from its equilibrium value, and the semiconductor is no longer in equilibrium. There may be more carriers than at equilibrium, or fewer. The difference from equilibrium is called the “excess”, which can be positive or negative (fewer carriers than at equilibrium). We define the total carrier concentrations as n ( x , t ) = n o + δn ( x, t ) p ( x, t ) = p o + δp ( x , t )

Terminology: A carrier (or “charge carrier”) is an electron or a hole. At equilibrium, the generation rate g and recombination rate r for electrons and holes are equal, so there are no net carriers generated, on average. When there is more than the equilibrium value of electrons or holes, the probability of recombination (i.e., the recombination rate) increases; when there are fewer, the generation rate (the probability of generation) increases. In either case, the number of carriers tends to return to the equilibrium value. Excess carriers, and in particular excess minority carriers, are crucial to the operation of both optical and electronic devices. Therefore, we need to know something about their properties and about the equations that govern them. This is the subject of Chapter 4. Carrier Lifetime If we have an excess of carriers, say electrons, in a semiconductor, we can ask how their number decreases with time due to increased recombination. This problem was set up for the simple case of an excess electron density generated by a flash of light on a semiconductor. When the light goes off, the excess electron density decreases exponentially in time. Under the assumption that δn = δp, and that δn and δp are small compared to the majority carrier density, we have dδn = −α r p o δn(t ) dt The solution to this equation is

δn(t ) = ∆ne −t / τ n

and defining the net recombination rate R = r – g.e. It is known as the low-level injection approximation. where carriers are trapped at a defect site before recombining. n. Also. are the diffusivities of electrons and holes.. we have the total current in a semiconductor: J total = J n + J p J n = qµ n nε + qDn dn dx J p = qµ p pε − qD p dp dx where it is understood that each of the quantities J. δp << po (i. the excess carrier density is much less than the majority carrier density) is an important special case. Dp. A more complicated recombination mechanism is indirect recombination. in this case. This gives rise to the diffusion current: J nDIFF = qDn dn( x) dx DIFF Jp = −qD p dp ( x) dx The quantities Dn.where αr is a proportionality constant. so we set up the equation for excess electrons. The approximation δn. We can look these up in a table or chart (see the Einstein Relation below). δn(t) is the excess electron density as a function of time. the lifetime for holes and electrons may be different from each other. Combining diffusion and drift currents. ε may be a function of distance x. δn τn Diffusion Current Electrons and holes will diffuse if there is a concentration gradient (more in one place than in another). we have R= Ideas: • • • We are interested in examining minority carriers. Looking at these equations. Ideas: . except that the minority carrier lifetime is different. δn. and stipulated that the material was p-type (po >> no). The result for net recombination rate R is the same. and τn = (αrpo)-1 is the minority carrier lifetime. p. ∆n is the excess electron density at t = 0 (we would have to know this or have some way to calculate it separately).

and we are interested in the time dependence: ∂ n(x. uniform electron concentration decaying in time: dn(t)/dt). This figure explains why the signs in front of the electron and hole drift currents are the same. electron concentration that is varying in space AND changing in time. but the signs in front of the electron and hole diffusion currents are different. t ) 1 ∂J n δn = − ∂t q ∂x τ n There are several different kinds of “d” here: d/dx or d/dt is a differential.• • Figure 4-14 shows electron/hole motion and the associated current components in an electric field (drift) and in a concentration gradient (diffusion). While this would no doubt be fun. The diffusivities and mobilities both describe the motion of electrons and holes in a semiconductor. appropriate when the quantity being differentiated is a function of only one variable (e. as in δn or δp. appropriate when the quantity being differentiated is a function of more than one variable (e.. We derived it for a special case. t ) 1 ∂J p δp =− − ∂t q ∂x τ p Ideas: • • • The second term on the right in each equation is the net recombination rate R we arrived at above. and easier to solve. of excess minority carriers. δ is an indication of an excess carrier density.. The time and space dependence of excess minority carriers is described by the continuity equation. and drifting in a semiconductor. and is used to indicate an initial value (e. ∆ is also an indication of an excess carrier density. As it turns out. The continuity equation describes what is happening to a pulse of excess carriers that is diffusing.g. they are related by the Einstein relation: D kT = µ q Continuity Equation The operation of both optical devices and electronic devices depends on the behavior. which give complicated equations for the carrier densities as a function of time and space. δn at t = 0 or δn at x = 0).g. recombining. We can plug our expressions for Jp and Jn into these equations. as in the Haynes-Schockley experiment of Fig 4-20. but we assume it is true in general. in time and space. ∂δp ( x.g.t)/ ∂ t). ∂δn( x. ∂ / ∂ x or ∂ / ∂ t is a partial differential. . we will make some simplifications that will be useful..

4-12. or running a device at a constant voltage). Steady State If we provide a constant supply of carriers (say. by shining a light continuously. At x = 0. Excess carriers are diffusing and recombining. in which the time derivatives are 0. then we have steady state conditions. The hole diffusion current density Jp can be determined if we know the excess carrier density: J p ( x) = −qD p Dp dδp ( x) =q δp ( x ) dx Lp . their number is dwindling with increasing x. the total number of holes reaches po. which is the average distance a carrier will travel in the semiconductor before recombining. 4-17 is a graph of the total hole density p(x) = po + δp(x). we assume a steady supply (called “injection” in the text) of holes. we get the diffusion equations.Diffusion Equation If we set the electric field in the expressions for Jp and Jn equal to 0. ∂δp ∂δp δp = Dp 2 − ∂t τp ∂x Ideas: This equation describes mathematically what is going on in Fig. then only the diffusion current is left. because δp(x) becomes 0 for large x. In that case. which are diffusing and recombining as they move in the positive x-direction. If we plug the result into the continuity equation. Because they are recombining. where δp(x) is given by the solution to the steady state diffusion equation above. but there is no applied electric field. Ideas: Fig. Eventually. we can simplify the diffusion equations further to read Dp ∂ 2 δp δp = ∂x 2 τ p Dn ∂ 2 δn δn = ∂x 2 τ n ∂δn ∂ 2 δn δn = Dn − ∂t ∂x 2 τ n The solution to the equation for holes is δp( x) = ∆pe − x / Lp where L p = D pτ p is the diffusion length.

under dc conditions. From this analysis. In addition. Where are we going to use this??? In the pn junction diode. which we will use in Chapter 5. we will derive the diode current density. a situation described by the diffusion equation. as described by the equation above. we will assume there is no electric field in the region of the diode far from the junction. This is an important result. the hole diffusion current density is proportional to the excess carrier density.In other words. which is the subject of the next chapter. In this region. the supply of minority carriers from the other side of the diode is constant. excess carriers will diffuse and recombine. .

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