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Introduction

A diode is a two-terminal electronic device that allows current to


flow easily in one direction while presenting a high resistance in the
reverse direction. Diodes have performed a wide variety of functions in
computers.
In electronics, a diode is a two-terminal electronic component
that conducts primarily in one direction (asymmetric conductance); it
has low (ideally zero) resistance to the flow of current in one direction,
and high (ideally infinite) resistance in the other. A semiconductor
diode, the most common type today, is a crystalline piece of
semiconductor material with a pn junction connected to two
electrical terminals.
A diode is an electrical device allowing current to move through
it in one direction with far greater ease than in the other. The most
common kind of diode in modern circuit design is the semiconductor
diode, although other diode technologies exist.

History

In 1873, Frederick Guthrie discovered the basic principle of


operation of thermionic diodes.

Thomas Edison independently rediscovered the principle on


February 13, 1880. At the time, Edison was investigating why

the filaments of his carbon-filament light bulbs nearly always


burned out at the positive-connected end.

John Ambrose Fleming patented the first true thermionic diode,


the Fleming valve, in Britain on November 16, 1904.

The crystal detector was developed into a practical device for


wireless telegraphy by Greenleaf Whittier Pickard, who invented
a silicon crystal detector in 1903 and received a patent for it on
November 20, 1906.

Bell Labs also developed a germanium diode for microwave


reception, and AT&T used these in their microwave towers that
criss-crossed the nation starting in the late 1940s

How does a Diode work?


Ideally, diodes will block any and all current flowing the reverse
direction, or just act like a short-circuit if current flow is forward.
Unfortunately, actual diode behavior isnt quite ideal. Diodes do
consume some amount of power when conducting forward current,
and they wont block out all reverse current. Real-world diodes are a
bit more complicated, and they all have unique characteristics which
define how they actually operate.
Depending on the voltage applied across it, a diode will operate
in one of three regions:
1. Forward bias: When the voltage across the diode is positive the diode
is on and current can run through. The voltage should be greater
than the forward voltage (VF) in order for the current to be anything
significant.
2. Reverse bias: This is the off mode of the diode, where the voltage is
less than VF but greater than -VBR. In this mode current flow is
(mostly) blocked, and the diode is off. A very small amount of current
(on the order of nA) called reverse saturation current is able to flow
in reverse through the diode.
3. Breakdown: When the voltage applied across the diode is very large
and negative, lots of current will be able to flow in the reverse
direction, from cathode to anode.

Forward Voltage
In order to turn on and conduct current in the forward
direction, a diode requires a certain amount of positive voltage to be
applied across it. The typical voltage required to turn the diode on is
called the forward voltage (VF). It might also be called either the cut-in
voltage or on-voltage.
Breakdown Voltage
If a large enough negative voltage is applied to the diode, it will
give in and allow current to flow in the reverse direction. This large
negative voltage is called the breakdown voltage. Some diodes are
actually designed to operate in the breakdown region, but for most
normal diodes its not very healthy for them to be subjected to large
negative voltages.

Types of Diodes
1. Normal Diodes

a) Standard signal diodes are among the most basic, average, nofrills members of the diode family. They usually have a mediumhigh forward voltage drop and a low maximum current rating. A
common example of a signal diode is the 1N4148. Very general
purpose, its got a typical forward voltage drop of 0.72V and a
300mA maximum forward current rating.

b) A rectifier or power diode is a standard diode with a much higher


maximum current rating. This higher current rating usually
comes at the cost of a larger forward voltage.

2. Light-Emitting Diodes
The flashiest member of the diode family must be the light-emitting
diode (LED). These diodes quite literally light up when a positive
voltage is applied.
Like normal diodes, LEDs only allow current through one direction.
They also have a forward voltage rating, which is the voltage required
for them to light up. The VF rating of an LED is usually larger than
that of a normal diode (1.2~3V), and it depends on the color the LED
emits.

3. Schottky Diodes
Another very common diode is the Schottky diode. The
semiconductor composition of a Schottky diode is slightly different
from a normal diode, and this results in a much smaller forward
voltage drop, which is usually between 0.15V and 0.45V. Theyll still
have a very large breakdown voltage though.
Schottky diodes are especially useful in limiting losses, when every
last bit of voltage must be spared. Theyre unique enough to get a
circuit symbol of their own, with a couple bends on the end of the
cathode-line.

4. Zener Diodes
Zener diodes are the weird outcast of the diode family. Theyre
usually used to intentionally conduct reverse current. Zeners are
designed to have a very precise breakdown voltage, called the zener
breakdown or zener voltage. When enough current runs in reverse
through the zener, the voltage drop across it will hold steady at the
breakdown voltage. Taking advantage of their breakdown property,
Zener diodes are often used to create a known reference voltage at
exactly their Zener voltage. They can be used as a voltage regulator for
small loads.

5. Photodiodes
Photodiodes are specially constructed diodes, which capture energy
from photons of light (see Physics, quantum) to generate electrical
current. Kind of operating as an anti-LED.

Other Types of Diodes


Avalanche diodes
These are diodes that conduct in the reverse direction when the
reverse bias voltage exceeds the breakdown voltage.
Cat's whisker or crystal diodes
These are a type of point-contact diode. The cat's whisker diode
consists of a thin or sharpened metal wire pressed against a
semiconducting crystal, typically galena or a piece of coal.
Constant current diodes
These are actually JFETs with the gate shorted to the source, and
function like a two-terminal current-limiting analog to the voltagelimiting Zener diode.

Esaki or tunnel diodes

These have a region of operation showing negative resistance caused


by quantum tunneling, allowing amplification of signals and very
simple bistable circuits.
Gunn diodes
These are similar to tunnel diodes in that they are made of materials
such as GaAs or InP that exhibit a region of negative differential
resistance.
Laser diodes
When an LED-like structure is contained in a resonant cavity formed
by polishing the parallel end faces, a laser can be formed.

Thermal diodes
This term is used both for conventional pn diodes used to monitor
temperature due to their varying forward voltage with temperature,
and for Peltier heat pumps for thermoelectric heating and cooling.

PIN diodes
A PIN diode has a central un-doped, or intrinsic, layer, forming a ptype/intrinsic/n-type structure.

Super barrier diodes


Super barrier diodes are rectifier diodes that incorporate the low
forward voltage drop of the Schottky diode with the surge-handling
capability and low reverse leakage current of a normal pn junction
diode.

Gold-doped diodes
As a dopant, gold (or platinum) acts as recombination centers, which
helps a fast recombination of minority carriers. This allows the diode
to operate at signal frequencies, at the expense of a higher forward
voltage drop.

Snap-off or Step recovery diodes

The term step recovery relates to the form of the reverse recovery
characteristic of these devices.

Stabistors or Forward Reference Diodes


The term stabistor refers to a special type of diodes featuring
extremely stable forward voltage characteristics.

Transient voltage suppression diode (TVS)


These are avalanche diodes designed specifically to protect other
semiconductor devices from high-voltage transients.

Varicap or varactor diodes


These are used as voltage-controlled capacitors. These are important
in PLL (phase-locked loop) and FLL (frequency-locked loop) circuits,
allowing tuning circuits, such as those in television receivers, to lock
quickly on to the frequency.

Applications of Diodes
Reverse Current Protection
Ever stick a battery in the wrong way? Or switch up the red and
black power wires? If so, a diode might be to thank for your circuit still
being alive. A diode placed in series with the positive side of the power
supply is called a reverse protection diode. It ensures that current can
only flow in the positive direction, and the power supply only applies a
positive voltage to your circuit.
Power conversion
Rectifiers are constructed from diodes, where they are used to
convert alternating current (AC) electricity into direct current (DC).
Automotive alternators are a common example, where the diode,
which rectifies the AC into DC, provides better performance than the
commutator or earlier, dynamo.

Radio demodulation
The first use for the diode was the demodulation of amplitude
modulated (AM) radio broadcasts. The history of this discovery is
treated in depth in the radio article. In summary, an AM signal
consists of alternating positive and negative peaks of a radio carrier
wave, whose amplitude or envelope is proportional to the original
audio signal. The diode (originally a crystal diode) rectifies the AM
radio frequency signal, leaving only the positive peaks of the carrier
wave.
Logic Gates
Forget transistors! Simple digital logic gates, like the AND or the
OR, can be built out of diodes.
For example, a diode two-input OR gate can be constructed out of two
diodes with shared cathode nodes. The output of the logic circuit is
also located at that node. Whenever either input (or both) is a logic 1
(high/5V) the output becomes a logic 1 as well. When both inputs are
a logic 0 (low/0V), the output is pulled low through the resistor.
An AND gate is constructed in a similar manner. The anodes of
both diodes are connected together, which is where the output of the
circuit is located. Both inputs must be logic 1 forcing current to run
towards the output pin and pull it high also. If either of the inputs are
low, current from the 5V supply runs through the diode.

Flyback Diodes and Voltage Spike Suppression


Diodes are very often used to limit potential damage from
unexpected large spikes in voltage. Transient-voltage-suppression
(TVS) diodes are specialty diodes. Theyre designed to shunt currents
and absorb energy when voltages exceed their breakdown voltage.
When current through an inductor suddenly changes, a voltage
spike is created, possibly a very large, negative spike. A flyback diode
placed across the inductive load, will give that negative voltage signal
a safe path to discharge.

Ionizing radiation detectors


In addition to light, mentioned above, semiconductor diodes are
sensitive to more energetic radiation. In electronics, cosmic rays and
other sources of ionizing radiation cause noise pulses and single and
multiple bit errors. This effect is sometimes exploited by particle
detectors to detect radiation.

Temperature measurements
A diode can be used as a temperature measuring device, since
the forward voltage drop across the diode depends on temperature, as
in a silicon bandgap temperature sensor.

Current steering
Diodes will prevent currents in unintended directions. To supply
power to an electrical circuit during a power failure, the circuit can
draw current from a battery.

Waveform Clipper
Diodes can be used to limit the positive or negative excursion of
a signal to a prescribed voltage.

Clamper
A diode clamp circuit can take a periodic alternating current
signal that oscillates between positive and negative values, and
vertically displace it such that either the positive, or the negative
peaks occur at a prescribed level.

References

Lowe, Doug (2013). "Electronics Components: Diodes". Electronics


All-In-One Desk Reference For Dummies. John Wiley & Sons.
Retrieved January 4, 2013.

Tooley, Mike (2012). Electronic Circuits:


Applications, 3rd Ed. Routlege. p. 81

https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/diodes

Fundamentals

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