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Tunnel diode

Tunnel diodes, also known as Esaki diodes, are a type of semiconductor devices, capable
of very fast and high frequency operation, well into the microwave frequency region.
Invented in August 1957 by Reona Esaki (1925), when he was with Sony, these are notable
for their longevity, with devices made in the 1960s still functioning. Robert Noyce
independently came up with the idea of a tunnel diode while working for William Shockley,
but was discouraged from pursuing it. In 1973 Esaki, along with Ivar Giaever and Brian
David Josephson, was awarded the Nobel Prize for research he had conducted around 1958
regarding electron tunneling in solids.
They employ quantum mechanical effect called tunneling and hence the name tunnel diodes.
First these diodes were manufactured by Sony in 1957 and from about 1960 onwards by
General Electric and other companies. Well known for their dynamic negative resistance
property, they can be viewed as Zener diodes, however, with breakdown voltage reduced to
zero volts. They are usually made from germanium, but can also be made from gallium
arsenide and silicon materials. The circuit symbol and characteristics are shown in Figure 4.3

Figure 4.3 Tunnel diode(a) circuit symbol (b) circuit model in negative resistance region and
(c) volt-amper characteristic.
These diodes are characterized by higher levels of impurity concentration and
consequently lower levels barrier widths. The impurity concentration is more than 10 19cm-3
or one part in 103 and the width of junction barrier is less than 1000A or 10-8m.
The equivalent circuit of tunnel diode consists of a parallel combination negative
resistance of –Rn with junction capacitance C in series with a series combination of lead
ohmic resistance R and lead inductance L as shown in Figure 4.3(b).
As shown in Figure 4.3(c), for small forward bias voltages, the forward current keeps
on increasing with voltage and attains a peak value known as the peak current IP at some
specific forward bias voltage, VP known as peak voltage. It corresponds to maximum forward
tunneling. For further increase in the voltage the current starts dropping and reaches a
minimum value IV known as valley current at another specific voltage known as valley
voltage VV. With further increase in voltage the current starts increasing setting in the region
of positive differential resistance. The voltage VF known as forward peak point current
voltage is the voltage corresponding to that point on the characteristic where the current is
equal to the maximum specified peak point current.
The diode exhibits infinite differential resistance at peak and valley points. In between
peak and valley points the diode is exhibiting negative differential resistance and in the
remaining portion of the characteristic the differential resistance is positive. It has been
estimated that minimum value of negative resistance occurs at the inflection point of the
negative resistance characteristic and it is given, approximately, by

Rmin  

2V p

Under reverse bias the reverse current increases almost linearly with the voltage. Thus the
device acts as a resistor in this region.

Figure 4.4 The two components of tunnel diode current. (a) Tunneling component, (b)
ordinary diode component and (c) total current.
The ratio of the peak current to valley current, IP/IV , is known as the figure of merit of
the diode. Its typical value is approximately equal to 3.5 for Si, 8 for Ge and 15 for GaAs
tunnel diodes. Most commercially available tunnel diodes are made from Ge or GaAs. It is
difficult to manufacture silicon tunnel diode with a high ratio of peak to valley current IP/IV.
GaAs has the highest ratio, IP/IV and largest voltage swing is nearly one volt i.e. VF – VP ≈
The current in the V-I characteristic can be considered as consisting of two
components: (a) a tunneling component and (b) ordinary diode current given by Shockley
current component as shown in Figure 4.4
The peak point current of the diode is determined by an etching process and can be
held within ±2.5% or better on a production basis. However, the peak point voltage, valley
point voltage and forward point voltage are determined by the semiconductor material and
are largely fixed. For Germanium these voltages are 55, 350 and 500mV respectively at room
temperatures. The magnitude of the negative resistance is equal to the slope dv/di of the
voltage current characteristic. For a 1milliamp Germanium diode, the negative resistance lies
in between 100 and 160Ω.

Figure 4.5 Energy band diagrams of (a) tunnel diode and (b) ordinary diode.

The energy band diagram of tunnel diodes shows some marked difference with that of
ordinary diodes, as shown in Figure 4.5. The Fermi level in tunnel diodes always lies outside
the forbidden energy gap. As a result of the heavy doping concentrations, on the n-side, it lies
in the conduction band and on the p-side it lies in the valence band. The contact difference of
potential energy Eo is more than the forbidden gap energy EG in tunnel diodes, i.e. Eo > EG
Figure 4.5 Relative positions of various energy bands in tunnel diode at various points on

volt-ampere characteristic.
The manifestitation of negative resistnace in tunnel diodes can be explained with the
help of energy band diagrams, as shown in Figure. Consider various points marked on the
volt-ampere characteristic. at At point 1, electrons are at the same level on both sides of
junction, resulting in no net current. At point 2, electrons on right side are raised until they
are opposite to empty states on left side, resulting in strong current from right to left.At point
3, electrons on right raised still farther. Some are opposite to forbidden gap and some are
opposite to empty states, resulting in decreased current.At point 4, electrons all are opposite
to forbiddedn gap, resulting in very small current.At point 5, electrons are raised until they
spill over barrier, resulting in increased current.
The 1N2939 Germanium tunnel diode, capable of carrying a maximum forward
current of 5 mA, is designed for low level switching and small signal operations. It has
frequency capabilities upto 2.2GHz., with a closely controlled peak point current, good
temperature stability and extreme resistance to nuclear radiation. Its peak point current IP is
1.0mA, valley point current IV is 0.10mA and hence, the ratio, IP/IV is 10.0. The peak point
voltage VP is 60mV, and the valley point voltage VV is 350mV, total capacitance is 5pF,
series inductance is 0.60nH, series resistance is 1.50Ω, negative conductance is 6.6 ×10 -3
mhos and the maximum operating temp is 1000 C.

There is absolutely no minority carrier storage and hence with no diffusion
capacitance in these devices and thus they are capable of extremely high frequency operation
often in the GHz range.
Applications: Applications for tunnel diodes includes local oscillators for UHF television
tuners, trigger circuits in oscilloscopes, high-speed counter circuits, and very fast-rise time
pulse generator circuits. Low-noise microwave amplifiers can be designed with these diodes.
They are used in frequency converters and detectors in microwave amplifiers and also as high
speed switchs. They are also used in the design of oscillators, amplifiers, and in switching
circuits using hysteresis.

Limitations: The tunnel diode showed great promise as an oscillator and high-frequency
trigger device since it operated at frequencies far greater frequencies well into the microwave
bands. However,

Since its discovery, more conventional semiconductor devices have surpassed its
performance using conventional oscillator techniques.

Being a two terminal device is a serious disadvantate with tunnel diode. For many
purposes, a three-terminal device, such as a field-effect transistor, is more flexible than
a device with only two terminals.

Practical tunnel diodes operate at a few milliamperes and a few tenths of a volt,
making them low-power devices. The Gunn diode has similar high frequency
capability and can handle more power.

These diodes are susceptible to damage by overheating, and thus special care is needed
when soldering them.

Advantages: The main advantages of these devices are, low cost, low noise, low power and
high speed. Also it has been found that tunnel diodes are less sensitive to nuclear radiation
when compared to transistors. This makes them well suited to higher radiation environments
such as those found in space. Their disadvantages include low output swing and being two
terminal devices.
4.4.Light Emitting Diodes
The light emitting diodes or LEDs in short, are two terminal semi-conductor devices, that
convert the electrical energy into light. These are widely used in display systems. The symbol
of this device is shown in Figure 4.7

Figure 4.7 Circuit symbol of Light emitting diode, LED

Principle: The working of LEDs is based on the principle that when an electron recombines
with a hole, an amount of energy equal to the band gap energy EG gets released in the form of
radiation. The frequency, f of radiation is given by Planck’s law
EG  hf
where h is known as Planck's constant, given by,
h  6.626 1034 J/sec
The wavelength of the radiation can be obtained by converting frequency into
velocity of radiation and wavelength and then substituting the values of the constants, as
EG  hf 
 

Hence, the wavelength in meters, is
6.626  1034 J-sec  3  108 m/sec
EG in J
The wavelength in μm, becomes
 in  m  6.626  10 J-sec  3  10 m/sec  10
EG in J

6.626 1034 J-sec  3 108 m/sec 106

EG in eV  1.6 10
EG (eV)
Hence, the wavelength of the emitted radiation in μm and gap-energy in eV, are related by
  μm  
EG (eV)
It can be observed from the Eq. (4.10) that for the emission to lie in the visible
spectrum which is typically between 380 nm and 750 nm, the band gap energy of the material



should lie in between 1.65
and 2.26
Table 4.1 LED materials and their properties.

























Peak bandgap
energy (eV)

GaP: N
One way to achieve LED action is by forming a pn junction with a direct band-gap
semiconductor, and then forward bias it. In a forward biased p-n junction, electrons and holes
are injected into the same region of space i.e., junction region, where they can recombine and
emit photons . Therefore, the emission in LEDs is concentrated near the junction.
LEDs are fabricated with III-V semiconductors due to their desirable optical
properties. A list of various semiconductors commonly used for LED fabrication to produce
different colors along with their radiation wavelengths and bandgap energies are given in
Table 4.1. Direct gap semiconductors are highly conducive for radiative recombination and
because of this reason they are widely used for LED fabrication. However, it is possible to
have efficient radiative recombination from indirect gap semiconductors with the help of
certain trap levels and hence they are also used for LED fabrication.
For visible blue light emission Silicon Carbide, Gallium Nitride are used. For other
colors, the materials universally used for LED fabrication are Gallium Phosphide (GaP),
Gallium Arsenic Phosphide (GaAsP), Zinc Telluride (ZnTe) and Zinc Selenide (ZnSe).
Note that Silicon is not suitable for the fabrication of LEDs because of two reasons:
one it is an indirect band gap material in which the recombination takes place only with the


aid of traps) and other is its band gap energy is only 1.12
less than that which is required
to emit light.
The semi-conductor, GaAs, is a direct band gap material in which the recombination


is direct without the aid of traps. However, its band gap energy is only 1.42
and hence
not sufficient for visible light emission. In action, its energy release is in the form of radiation
that fall in the infra-red region.
Voltage and current: Due to the higher value of the band gap, LEDs typically show a
higher forward voltage drop of the order of 1.2-2.5 V, and often carry current of the order of
tens of mA
An important figure of merit for LEDs is their optical conversion efficiency, which is
defined as the optical power output divided by the electrical power input. The efficiency of
radiation increases with the injected current as well with temperature.
Applications: Visible light emitting diodes find applications in calculators, watches
whereas infrared emitters are widely used in security systems, for optical coupling and safety
controls etc.
White LEDs are made recently and they are expected to replace fluorescent lamps and
incandescent bulbs soon. These are made with either one of the two methods: one, the output
from red, green and blue LEDs are suitably combined to give while light or light from blue or
UV LED is used to excite electrons in phosphor material to high energy levels which then
come down to lower energy levels reradiating several wavelengths, all combining to give
white light.

The term LASER is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulation Emission of
Radiaiton. It is a source of coherent electromagnetic waves at infrared and light frequencies.
As the light frequencies are high, the capacity to carry information is immense for lasers.
The first laser was a pulsed on using ruby. The continuously operating laser developed after
three years used helium and neon gases.
Semiconductor lasers are diodes with a p-n junction inside a slab of semiconductor that is
typically less than a millimeter in any dimension. Gallium Arsenide, GaAs, has been used in
the fabrication of lasers widely. It was discovered in 1962 that a forward biased GaAs diode
is capable of producing laser action. Depending on its precise chemical composition the
GaAs diode can give radiation within the range of 750 to 900
i.e. in the infrared region.
(Light occupies the 390 to 770
range). In these lasers, the necessary excitation is provided
by electrical current flow through the device and the cleaved ends of the diode provide the
feedback mirrors.
The output of diode lasers differ from that of other lasers in two significant ways: beam
divergence and monochromatism. Because of their small size, the beam divergence angles of
diode lasers are large, as much as 20 0. The output, in the case of diode lasers, is far less
monochromatic than other laser types. Nevertheless, semiconductor lasers have important
applications in communications and range finding.

Figure 4.10 Homojunction Gallium Arsenide laser diode.
Homojunction Laser: Figure 4.10 is a diagram of the simplest and earliest type of GaAs
laser, which is essentially in brick-shape. The GaAs cleaves easily along certain crystal
planes, leaving flat parallel surfaces. Usually, the mirrors for feedback and output coupling
are formed by the cleaved ends of the laser diode, with no further coating. The reflectivity at
the interface between gallium arsenide and air is approximately 36%. If output is desired
from only one end of the device, or if mirrors of higher reflectivity are desired to reduce the
threshold for laser operation, the reflectivity may be increased by coating the surfaces with
metal films. Optical standing waves may exist between any two of the parallel surfaces of the
diode. Two sides are purposely roughened to reduce reflection and prevent lasing "across" the
diode cavity.
The output power available from this laser is limited by the loop gain available within
the laser cavity. The amplifier gain of the active medium is dependent on the current density
through the junction. Higher currents produce greater power, but higher currents also increase
heating effects that can damage the device.
Loss in the laser cavity has two primary contributors. The first of these is diffraction
loss, which may be reduced by making the junction wider and by better confining the light to
the active region. The second loss factor is absorption of the laser light by free carriers in the
junction region. This loss may be brought down by lowering the temperature of the device,
thereby reducing the number of free carriers.

Heterojunction Laser: These are GaAs laser diodes with an advanced junction design to
reduce diffraction loss, by modifying the laser material to control the index of refraction of
the cavity and the width of the junction.
The p-n junction of the basic GaAs laser described above is called a homojunction
because only one type of semiconductor material is used in the junction with different
dopants to produce the junction itself. The index of refraction of the material depends upon
the impurity used and the doping level. The junction region is actually lightly doped with ptype material and has the highest index of refraction. The n-type material and the more
heavily doped p-type material both have lower indices of refraction. This produces a light
pipe effect that helps to confine the laser light to the active junction region. In the
homojunction, however, this index difference is low and much light is lost.
In heterojunction laser, a fraction of the gallium in the p-type layer has been replaced by
aluminum. This reduces the index of refraction of this layer and results in better confinement
of the laser light to the optical cavity.

Figure 4.11 Heterjunction Gallium Arsenide laser diode.
Structure: In the middle it is active layer (p- type GaAs) surrounded by two barrier layers
(on one side p-type and on other side n-type GaAlAs). Below barrier n-type GaAlAs layer,
lies the substrate of n+ - type GaAs. Above the barrier p-type GaAlAs layer exists a contact
layer of p-type GaAs. Active layer is surrounded by heterojunctions whereas a metal contact
exists on one side of the contact layer and substrate. Contact layer is positive with respect to
the substrate.
The device is an injection laser, in which electrons and holes originating in the GaAlAs
layers cross the heterojunctions and give off their excess recombination energy in the form of
light. The heterojunctions are opaque and the active region is constrained by them to the player of GaAs. Two ends of the slice are very highly polished so that reinforcing reflection
takes place between them. This laser is capable of powers in excess of 1 W. The indium
gallium arsenide phosphide, InGaAsP, laser is capable of giving radiation at frequencies
lower than that of the GaAs diode. The constitution of various layers for both the types of
lasers are given in table 1.
Table 1 Description of layers in GaAs and InGaAsP LASERs.

Contact layer
Barrier layer




Active layer
Barrier layer


n+- InP

Applications include distance and speed measuring equipment, industrial welding,
etching, surgery, holograms, communications etc. The LEDs and LASERs compete with each
other in certain applications. It is essential to have a comparison of their characteristics. The
major difference between the LED (or any other conventional light source) and the diode
laser: in an LED light generation is via spontaneous emission, while in the laser it is
stimulated emission which is responsible for the generation of light
The structure of LED is simpler, cheaper and more reliable. In addition, LEDs are not
temperature sensitive and doesn’t require polished ends.
However the output power of the LEDs is lower to that of lasers and the output is not
monochromatic. In addition the light beam of LED is wider. In addition the light output of the
laser can be pulsed at much higher rates than that of LEDs.
The Photodiodes are semiconductor devices whose operation is exactly inverse to that
of LEDs. They convert the optical energy into electrical power. The symbol, operation and
electrical characteristics are shown in Figure 4.12
Principle: It is a reverse biased pn junction diode embedded in a clear plastic and the
radiation is made to fall upon one surface across the junction. The remaining sides of the
plastic are either painted black or enclosed in a metallic case.
Its functioning is based on the fact that when illumination falls over the junction of a
reverse biased junction diode, it results in a current through the diode which varies almost
linearly with the light flux.
Current: Its volt ampere characteristic is
I  I s  I o 1  eV VT
where Is is short-circuit current and Io is reverse saturation current. Here the current I is in
reverse direction.

Figure 4.12 Photodiode (a) Circuit symbol, (b) operation , (c) volt-amper
characteristic and (d) sensitivity as function of distance of light spot from
Photo-current: The current, Is in the reverse biased junction diode as result of the
incidence of light is called photo-current. The light falling upon the junction acts as minority
carrier injector and the resulting minority carriers diffuse to the junction, cross it resulting in
Dark current: The current in the absence of illumination which is due to the reverse
saturation current of the diode as well as the current due to the carriers generated by the back
ground illumination is called dark current. The dark current corresponds mainly to the reverse
saturation current due to the thermally generated minority carriers.
Maximum allowed wavelength: This wavelength corresponds to the minimum
wavelength required for the incident radiation. The energy of the illumination depend upon
its frequency/wavelength. If the wavelength is more than certain value, then the incident
radiation can not generate current because its insufficient energy. The maximum allowed
wavelength of the incident radiation depends upon the band-gap energy of the semiconductor
used for the diode. The relation between these two quantities can be found as
  μm  
EG (eV)
Note that it is same as Eq. (4.11). Using the above relation, it can be found that the maximum
wavelength allowed for Silicon is as 1.11 μm
Frequency sensitivity: The photodiodes are highly frequency sensitive devices. It
means a given intensity of light of one frequency will not generate the same number of
minority carriers as an equal intensity of light of another frequency. In other words the photo
current depends upon the frequency/wavelength of the incident radiation.
The photo current is also a function of the distance from the junction at which the
light spot is focused, as shown in Figure 4.8(d). The current in the photo diode depends upon
the diffusion of minority carriers to the junction. Therefore it depends upon the distance from
the junction at which the light spot is focused because if the focused light spot is far away

from the junction, the generated minority carriers can recombine before diffusing to the
junction resulting in smaller current.
Performance indices: The three critical parameters associated with performance of
photodiodes are (a) dark current, (b) responsivity and (c) response speed. A good photodiode
should have zero dark current, or it should be extremely small as compared to the
photocurrent corresponding to the minimum level of illumination.
The responsivity of a photodiode is defined as the ratio of the generated photocurrent
and the incident optical power. Ideally it should have a value equal to 1/EG , EG in eV, but the
practical diodes exhibit less value, recombination being the cause of this reduction.
The response speed of the photo diode is governed by how fast the photo generated
carriers can be collected by the external circuit. It can be approximated with transit time, trr ,
given by
ttr 
where W is total width of the transition region and vd is the carrier drift velocity. So
faster response require small width transition region but it can be shown that larger
photocurrents require wider transition regions.
Useful Semi-conductors: At lower frequencies, Lead sulfide is generally used as the
photo detector material when the incident wavelength is beyond 1μm all the way to about 3.5
μm. Even though silicon cannot be used for light emission, in LEDs, it can be effectively
used as photo diode effectively for a wide range incident wavelength from 190nm to 1100nm.
i.e. at higher end of the spectrum.
Applications: The pn- photodiode find extensive applications in high-speed reading of
computer punched cards and tapes, light detection systems, reading film sound track, lightoperated switches, production-line counting of objects which interrupt a light beam, etc.