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• The pn junction is used an
electronic circuit element
called the diode or rectifier.
• The diode is the most basic
electronic component.
• An ideal diode would have
zero resistance when
forward biased and an
infinite resistance when
reverse biased.

Practical Diode Model

• A somewhat more realistic
model incorporates the “turn-
on voltage” or knee voltage.
• There is a minimum voltage
required across the diode in the
forward direction before it
conducts an appreciable
amount of current.
• The turn-on voltage is
approximately 0.5 to 0.7 Volts
in Si and about 0.3 volts in Ge. Vturn-on V

Realistic Model
• In forward bias the
diode has a resistance
on the order of 10 Ω.
• In reverse bias the
resistance is on the
order of 108 Ω.

The Diode Curve

• A mathematical model of the current-
voltage curve of a realistic diode gives

where V is the applied bias voltage, e is the

electronic charge, k is Boltzmann’s constant
and T is the absolute temperature. I0 is the
reverse current for a large reverse bias.

• In sufficiently large reverse bias is applied to a diode an
“avalanche” occurs.
• At the breakdown voltage charge carriers gain enough
energy (from the reverse bias electric field) between
collisions to break a covalent bond in the lattice and create
another charge carrier.
• These two charge carriers are accelerated and create more
charge carriers leading to an “avalanche” of charge
• This occurs very sharply at a certain voltage.
• Ordinary diodes usually fail in these conditions.

The Diode Curve

Real Diodes
• The schematic symbol for a diode is

• Diodes come in many shapes, each designed for a

specific set of applications.

Diodes and Temperature

• As temperature
increases, more thermal
energy is available to
electrons enabling them
to escape their binding
atoms more readily. This
causes the knee voltage
(the voltage at which the
diode turns on) to

Zener Diodes
• The p-n junction diode
that operates in the
reverse breakdown region
is usually destroyed by
the excess current and the
heat it produces. The
zener diode is designed
to successfully operate in
this region.

Zener Diode
• The characteristic curve
of the zener operating in
the reverse breakdown
region shows that the
voltage dropped across
the zener diode remains
relatively constant while
current through the zener
current is allowed to
increase dramatically.

Zener Diode
• When forward biased, the zener has a turn-on voltage of
approximately 0.7 V (like any other silicon diode.) When
reverse biased, the zener can have a “zener voltage” equal
to whatever amplitude it is designed (and doped) to
possess (from a minimum of approximately 1.8 V to
several hundred volts.)
• The relatively constant voltage drop across the zener when
it is reverse biased is the reason for to its use as a voltage
regulator. A voltage regulator is a device (or circuit)
designed to maintain a constant output voltage regardless
of any variations in the magnitude of its input voltage or in
the requirements of load current.

Light-Emitting Diode (LED)

• LEDs are diodes that emit light when
biased properly.
• LEDs are available in various colours:
red, green, yellow, orange, blue and
• Forward knee voltage does vary with
LED color (from approximately 1.2 V
to approximately 4.3 V.)

• LEDs usually have clear
(or semi-clear) cases. The
different colors are
obtained by using
different elements in the
LED's construction.
• LEDs must be forward
biased to allow current to
pass through them.
• LEDs will only light up
when current is
sufficiently large.

• Since LED cases are not labeled, a means of identifying the
anode and cathode must exist.

Laser Diodes
• Laser diodes are basically LEDs driven at higher
current so that a population inversion is created to
allow stimulated emission of photons.

Photovoltaic Diode or Solar Cell

• A photon is absorbed by a
semiconductor atom promoting
an electron across the energy
gap to the conduction band.
• The electron is then accelerated
by the electric field in the
depletion region.
• This produces a reverse current
driven by the incoming photons.

Solar Cell
• Crystalline solar cells: • Amorphous silicon
solar cells:

Diode Application:
The Half-wave rectifier