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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 n and p.
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 + n ( x, t ) p ( x, t ) = p o + p ( 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 n = p, and that n and p are small compared to the majority carrier density, we have dn = r p o n(t ) dt The solution to this equation is

n(t ) = ne t / n

where r is a proportionality constant, n(t) is the excess electron density as a function of time, n is the excess electron density at t = 0 (we would have to know this or have some way to calculate it separately), and n = (rpo)-1 is the minority carrier lifetime. Looking at these equations, and defining the net recombination rate R = r g, we have R= Ideas: We are interested in examining minority carriers, so we set up the equation for excess electrons, n, and stipulated that the material was p-type (po >> no). The approximation n, p << po (i.e., the excess carrier density is much less than the majority carrier density) is an important special case. It is known as the low-level injection approximation. A more complicated recombination mechanism is indirect recombination, where carriers are trapped at a defect site before recombining. The result for net recombination rate R is the same, except that the minority carrier lifetime is different. Also, in this case, the lifetime for holes and electrons may be different from each other.

n n

Diffusion Current Electrons and holes will diffuse if there is a concentration gradient (more in one place than in another). This gives rise to the diffusion current: J nDIFF = qDn dn( x) dx
DIFF Jp = qD p

dp ( x) dx

The quantities Dn, Dp, are the diffusivities of electrons and holes. We can look these up in a table or chart (see the Einstein Relation below). Combining diffusion and drift currents, we have the total current in a semiconductor: J total = J n + J p J n = q n n + qDn dn dx J p = q p p qD p dp dx

where it is understood that each of the quantities J, n, p, may be a function of distance x. Ideas:

Figure 4-14 shows electron/hole motion and the associated current components in an electric field (drift) and in a concentration gradient (diffusion). This figure explains why the signs in front of the electron and hole drift currents are the same, but the signs in front of the electron and hole diffusion currents are different. The diffusivities and mobilities both describe the motion of electrons and holes in a semiconductor. As it turns out, they are related by the Einstein relation: D kT = q

Continuity Equation The operation of both optical devices and electronic devices depends on the behavior, in time and space, of excess minority carriers. The time and space dependence of excess minority carriers is described by the continuity equation. p ( x, t ) 1 J p p = t q x p Ideas: The second term on the right in each equation is the net recombination rate R we arrived at above. We derived it for a special case, but we assume it is true in general. We can plug our expressions for Jp and Jn into these equations, which give complicated equations for the carrier densities as a function of time and space. While this would no doubt be fun, we will make some simplifications that will be useful, and easier to solve. The continuity equation describes what is happening to a pulse of excess carriers that is diffusing, recombining, and drifting in a semiconductor, as in the Haynes-Schockley experiment of Fig 4-20. n( x, t ) 1 J n n = t q x n

There are several different kinds of d here: d/dx or d/dt is a differential, appropriate when the quantity being differentiated is a function of only one variable (e.g., uniform electron concentration decaying in time: dn(t)/dt);
/ x or / t is a partial differential, appropriate when the quantity being differentiated is a function of more than one variable (e.g., electron concentration that is varying in space AND changing in time, and we are interested in the time dependence: n(x,t)/ t);

is an indication of an excess carrier density, as in n or p; is also an indication of an excess carrier density, and is used to indicate an initial value (e.g., n at t = 0 or n at x = 0).

Diffusion Equation If we set the electric field in the expressions for Jp and Jn equal to 0, then only the diffusion current is left. If we plug the result into the continuity equation, we get the diffusion equations. p p p = Dp 2 t p x Ideas: This equation describes mathematically what is going on in Fig. 4-12. Excess carriers are diffusing and recombining, but there is no applied electric field. Steady State If we provide a constant supply of carriers (say, by shining a light continuously, or running a device at a constant voltage), then we have steady state conditions, in which the time derivatives are 0. In that case, we can simplify the diffusion equations further to read Dp 2 p p = x 2 p Dn 2 n n = x 2 n n 2 n n = Dn t x 2 n

The solution to the equation for holes is

p( x) = pe

x / Lp

where L p = D p p is the diffusion length, which is the average distance a carrier will travel in the semiconductor before recombining. Ideas: Fig. 4-17 is a graph of the total hole density p(x) = po + p(x), where p(x) is given by the solution to the steady state diffusion equation above. At x = 0, we assume a steady supply (called injection in the text) of holes, which are diffusing and recombining as they move in the positive x-direction. Because they are recombining, their number is dwindling with increasing x. Eventually, the total number of holes reaches po, because p(x) becomes 0 for large x. The hole diffusion current density Jp can be determined if we know the excess carrier density: J p ( x) = qD p Dp dp ( x) =q p ( x ) dx Lp

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