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Section 5: The relationship between current

and voltage in a resistor

Aims of this section

To show how electrical conductivity is related to carrier

mobility and mobile carrier densities, to introduce the
microscopic and macroscopic forms of Ohm’s law, and to
derive the I-V characteristic of a simple semiconductor resistor.

Objectives of this section

After completing this section, you should
• understand what is meant by current density J
• be able to express J in terms of the electric field E and the
density and velocity of the charge carriers
• be able to find the conductivity σ = J / E
• be able to derive resistor I-V characteristics
Semiconductors & EM Theory 1 Lecture 5
5.1 Flow
Electric current is the flow of charge, e.g. traffic flow analogy

The flow rate is determined by four parameters:

• The velocity of the vehicles
• The number of motorway lanes
• The number of people in each vehicle
• The distance between vehicles
Semiconductors & EM Theory 2 Lecture 5
5.2 Flow of charge - electric current

The amount of charge that crosses this line per second is the
electric current I. This current is determined by four

• The velocity of the charged particles v

• The cross-sectional area of the piece of conductor A
• The amount of charge carried by each mobile charge q
• The density of mobile charges n
Semiconductors & EM Theory 3 Lecture 5
The electrical current is:
I = = nq v ⋅ A (5.1)
Note that electrons and holes move in opposite directions in an
applied E field

Semiconductors & EM Theory 4 Lecture 5

5.3 Non-uniform current flow and current density J

Uniform current flow

Non uniform current flow

The total current in each case is the same

Semiconductors & EM Theory 5 Lecture 5
Define current density
J = nq v (5.2)

• For a uniform current density of magnitude J threading a

cross sectional area A, the total current through the cross
section is I = JA .

• For a non-uniform J (one which varies from point to point on

a cross section), the total current is found by performing the
integral of J over the cross sectional area of the conductor

I = ∫ J dA

• The SI units of J are Amps per sq. metre (A/m2)

Semiconductors & EM Theory 6 Lecture 5

5.4 Sign conventions

Remember that:

• E is in the direction of motion of a positive charge

• I and J are always in the direction of motion of a positive
charge (conventional current flow)

Semiconductors & EM Theory 7 Lecture 5

5.5 Drift current density

This is the current associated with an applied E

For electrons J n = −ne v n = neμ n E

For holes J p = pe v p = peμ p E

The total current density is therefore

( )
J = J n + J p = neμ n + peμ p E (5.5)

from which we see that J is parallel to E, as we expect for

conventional current flow.

Semiconductors & EM Theory 8 Lecture 5

5.6 The microscopic form of Ohm’s law and conductivity

Definition of the electrical conductivity σ

( )
J = neμ n + peμ p E = σ E (5.6)

This is the microscopic form of Ohm’s law; remember it as

J = σ E , with
σ = neμ n + peμ p (5.7)

The resistivity ρ of the material is defined as


• The SI units of σ are Ω −1 m −1

• The SI units of ρ are Ω m (Ohm metres).
Semiconductors & EM Theory 9 Lecture 5
5.7 Intrinsic conductivity of a pure semiconductor

For intrinsic conduction n = p = ni ; hence

σ = neμ n + peμ p = ni e(μ n + μ p ) (5.9)

For Si at 300 K, σ = 4.6 × 10 −4 S/ m

5.8 Extrinsic conductivity of a doped semiconductor

For an n-type semiconductor, n ≈ N D and p ≈ ni2 / N D , i.e.

σ ≈ N D eμ n (5.10)
Similarly, for a p-type semiconductor
σ ≈ N A eμ p (5.11)
Semiconductors & EM Theory 10 Lecture 5
Worked Example
Find the conductivity at 300 K of a piece of n-type Si doped
with 7 ×1017 cm−3 of As atoms. Find also the ratio of the
electron and hole current densities.
n ≈ N D = 7 ×1017 cm −3
p ≈ n / N D ≈ (1.5 × 10
i )
10 2
/ 7 × 1017 cm −3 = 320 cm −3
σ = neμn + peμp ≈ N D eμn
. × 10−19 × 014
≈ 7 × 1023 × 16 . S / m ≈ 16
. × 104 S / m

J n neμ n E nμ n N D μ n 7 × 1017 1400

= ≡ ≈ ≈ ≈ 6.1 × 1015

J p peμp E pμp pμp 3.2 ×102 500

Almost all of the current is due to the majority carriers, in this
case electrons since the doping is n-type.

Semiconductors & EM Theory 11 Lecture 5

5.9 The macroscopic form of Ohm’s law

Uniform doping = same conductivity at all points

J = σE = σ
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The current I in the device flows through an area WH, so that
J = I / WH and hence
J =σ =
We define the resistance R of the device as the ratio V/I

V 1 L L
R= = ≡ρ (5.12)

This is the macroscopic form of Ohm’s law.

• The relationship between I and V for a device is known as its

I-V characteristic
• If R is a constant, the device has a linear I-V characteristic
• If R varies with V, the device has a non-linear I-V
• The SI unit of R is the Ohm ( Ω )
Semiconductors & EM Theory 13 Lecture 5
5.10 Summary

You should now know the meaning of the following terms:

• Current
• Current Density
• Drift current
• Conductivity
• Resistivity

You should now be able to

• calculate the current and current density in a conductor in

response to an electric field created by an applied voltage
• derive the I-V characteristic of a simple resistor

Semiconductors & EM Theory 14 Lecture 5

Semiconductors & EM Theory 15 Lecture 5