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How Does a Diode Work?

Shah Newaz Alam Oct 6, 2018
Different diodes are used for different purposes. However, the basic working of a diode still remains the same. It is a p-n junction semiconductor, that allows current to flow only in one direction.

What is a Diode?

A diode is a p-n junction semiconductor, that allows current to flow in only one direction. A p-type semiconductor is a semiconductor, which only has positively charged holes. The n-type semiconductor, is one which has electrons or negatively charged carriers. The p-type and n-type semiconductors are diffused into each other to form a p-n junction.
Mostly, silicon is used for the semiconductor material, while in many cases, germanium is also used.
Diodes are made, based on the purpose for which they are going to be used. For example, a varactor diode is used as a variable capacitor and a zener diode is operated in the reverse biased mode, hence their manufacturing process is also different.
An LED (Light Emitting Diode) is constructed, such that the holes and electrons on recombination, release energy in the form of light. Hence, they are manufactured from materials like gallium arsenide, gallium phosphide, etc. instead of silicon, so as to have a higher potential barrier.

How do Diodes Work?

To know how a diode works, we will need to understand its V-I characteristics.
V-I characteristics is the graph plotted between the voltage and the current, at which the diode is working. A diode is a voltage controlled device. In a diode, current flows in the forward biased mode, while there is no flow of charge, when the diode is reverse biased.
A diode is said to be in the forward biased mode when the positive terminal of the battery is connected to the p-terminal and negative side of the diode is connected to the n-terminal. Once the voltage is applied to the diode in the forward biased mode, the diode immediately does not allow the charge to flow.
On increasing the voltage, such that it reaches the breakdown voltage, the current flow starts increasing and reaches its maximum. This breakdown voltage is different for different semiconductor materials. For silicon, the breakdown voltage is 0.7 volt.
On applying the voltage, the positively charged holes are repelled by the positive terminal of the battery and the negatively charged electrons are repelled by the negative terminal of the battery and start flowing in the opposite directions. This causes flow of charge in the positive to negative direction.
Recombination of the electrons and holes takes place at the junction and a small region is developed at the junction. It consists of minority carriers, electrons in the p-layer and minority carriers, holes in the n layer. This limited region on both sides of the junctions is known as the depletion region.
Once the depletion region is formed, the current flow becomes practically constant. Further increase in voltage can destroy the depletion region and hence the diode. Most diodes when operated in the reverse biased mode, get destroyed on increasing the voltage to a large extent.
When a diode is operated in the reverse biased mode, there is no flow of charge initially. When the voltage is increased and reaches the reverse threshold voltage, current increases indefinitely and flows in the reverse direction, destroying the diode. However, zener diode is operated in the reverse biased mode and finds a wide range of applications.

Applications of Diodes

  • Though all diodes are not used for the same purpose, the basic function is the same.
  • Varactor diodes are used in places where they need to serve the purpose of a variable capacitor.
  • Tunnel diodes are used in applications where we need the current to increase and decrease alternately.
  • LEDs need to operate in the forward biased mode. Zener diodes, on the other hand, are operated in the reverse biased mode and are used as voltage regulators.
Diodes are one of the most fundamental devices that are used in any electronic kits. Even if you are using a microcontroller or microprocessor to prepare project, it is most likely that you will need a diode somewhere in the circuit. So understanding its working is extremely necessary, before designing any circuit.