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P-N Junction Diodes

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Overview

  1. P-N junction diode is integral for all electronic devices to operate, aggregating all forms of carrier transport, generation, and recombination.
  2. Majority carriers can diffuse across the P-N junction depletion region, even though the electric field impedes their crossing. Minority carriers that reach the junction are swept across the depletion region due to drift.
  3. At equilibrium, the net current (diffusion and drift current) is zero for both electrons and holes because the diffusion current is equal and opposite to the drift current for both carriers.

P-n junction diodes form the basis not only of solar cells, but of many other electronic devices such as LEDs, lasers, photodiodes and bipolar junction transistors (BJTs). A p-n junction aggregates the recombination, generation, diffusion and drift effects described in the previous pages into a single device.

Carrier Movement in Equilibrium

A p-n junction with no external inputs represents an equilibrium between carrier generation, recombination, diffusion and drift in the presence of the electric field in the depletion region. Despite the presence of the electric field, which creates an impediment to the diffusion of carriers across the electric field, some carriers still cross the junction by diffusion. In the animation below, most majority carriers which enter the depletion region move back towards the region from which they originated. However, statistically some carriers will have a high velocity and travel in a sufficient net direction such that they cross the junction. Once a majority carrier crosses the junction, it becomes a minority carrier. It will continue to diffuse away from the junction and can travel a distance on average equal to the diffusion length before it recombines. The current caused by the diffusion of carriers across the junction is called a diffusion current. In the animation below, watch the carriers in the depletion region and wait for carriers which cross the junction. Remember that in an actual p-n junction the number and velocity of the carriers is much greater and that the number of carriers crossing the junction are much larger.

Minority carriers which reach the edge of the diffusion region are swept across it by the electric field in the depletion region. This current is called the drift current. In equilibrium the drift current is limited by the number of minority carriers which are thermally generated within a diffusion length of the junction.

In equilibrium, the net current from the device is zero. The electron drift current and the electron diffusion current exactly balance out (if they did not there would be a net buildup of electrons on either one side or the other of the device). Similarly, the hole drift current and the hole diffusion current also balance each other out.