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Defining Semiconductors - History, Properties and Applications

AZoNano offers a comprehensive guide to understanding the semiconductor, including its properties, fabrication process and applications.

Defining Semiconductors - History, Properties and Applications

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What is a Semiconductor? – A History

The term "semiconducting" was first used in the late 18th century by Italian scientist Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta, a pioneer of power and electricity. After that, a 19th-century English scientist Michael Faraday documented the first observed semiconducting effect in silver sulfide; however, the revolution in electronics occurred with the breakthrough invention of the transistor in the mid-20th century.

So, what is a semiconductor? At its core, a semiconductor is a unique material that exhibits the electrical properties of both conductors and insulators by allowing the selective flow of electric current. This ability to manipulate electrical current makes semiconductors very crucial in modern technology.

What is a Semiconductor's Properties?

The properties of semiconductors stem from their crystalline atomic structure with a specific arrangement of atoms in band structure form, including the valence and conduction bands. In an insulator, the energy gap between the valence and conduction bands is large; in a conductor, the two bands overlap; however, in semiconductors, moderate energy gaps that can be manipulated to control their conductivity are present.

What is a Semiconductor's Fabrication Process Like?

The fabrication of semiconductors is usually done via photolithography which starts with the growth of a high-purity semiconductor crystal. Once the crystal is obtained, it undergoes slicing to produce thin wafers subjected to a series of chemical and physical treatments to create transistors and other electronic components. Photolithography uses light-sensitive materials, called photoresists, to transfer circuit patterns onto the wafer surface, enabling precise etching and deposition of various materials.

What is a Semiconductor’s Modification Procedure?

Semiconductor modification can occur via doping by introducing impurities into the crystal lattice and precisely tailoring the electrical properties of a semiconductor for required applications. Doping with phosphorus or arsenic introduces extra electrons into the crystal structure, creating an n-type semiconductor that facilitates the flow of electrons. Similarly, p-type semiconductors are formed when doped with boron or gallium, promoting the flow of positive charge carriers or which allows for the creation of complex electronic devices such as diodes, transistors, and integrated circuits.

What is a Semiconductor's Influence on Nanotechnology?

Rare Earth Metal Oxide Semiconductors (REMOSs) Nanoparticles

A recent 2022 study overviews the synthesis techniques and applications of rare earth metal oxide semiconductors (REMOSs) nanoparticles. According to the study, atomic layer deposition, electrodeposition, hydrothermal, and solvothermal techniques are instrumental.

The study also highlights the wide range of applications of REMOSs nanoparticles in trace gas sensors, batteries, magnetic storage devices, photovoltaic cells, catalysts, energy conversion, engineering, medicines, food, agriculture, and textiles. The unique electronic properties of REMOS nanoparticles allow precise control of electrical conductivity, making them suitable for fabricating nanotransistors, nanosensors, and other nanodevices.

Alternative to Silicon-Based Devices

Another 2019 study mentions the new trends of a shift from traditional to electric vehicles due to the environmental problems associated with traditional internal combustion engines.

In this regard, there is a huge social and political emphasis on improving current technology to its maximum limits. For example, the United States Department of Energy's goal for 2020 included developing 98% efficient power converters having 14.1 kW/kg power density but prices below $3.3/kW.

The study mentioned that this huge goal was only possible with novel semiconductor technologies. Hence the study mentions silicon carbide (SiC) and Wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductors based power electronic devices as an alternative to Silicon devices due to their better material properties.

What is a Semiconductor Used for?

Semiconductors are not limited to one industrial sector or technology, but almost every industry uses semiconductor devices for various applications. For instance, semiconductors are considered to be the backbone of modern computing technologies since they are a key component of microprocessors; the automotive industry utilizes semiconductors in engine control units, safety systems, and navigation devices to enhance vehicle performance, increase fuel efficiency, and provide advanced driver-assistance features, types of equipment used in the medical industry such as MRI machines have semiconductor devices embedded in them.

The Future of Semiconductor Technologies

Semiconductors have a very bright future since they are an integral part of many technologies that are advancing exponentially, especially nanotechnologies. For example, a 2020 study mentions that the international technology roadmap of semiconductors (ITRS) has reached a historical turning point, and complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology is shifting toward a new era due to the miniaturization of devices at the nanoscale.

Moreover, the study mentions that new and upcoming transistors having 3D structures are very different and more advanced from original planar 2D transistors due to nanotechnology. Therefore it is reasonable to say that the future of semiconductors is associated with the future of nanotechnology.

2023's Leading US Semiconductor Companies

References and Further Reading

Łukasiak, L., & Jakubowski, A. (2010). History of semiconductors. Journal of Telecommunications and information technology. https://bibliotekanauki.pl/articles/308134.pdf

Matallana, A., Ibarra, E., López, I., Andreu, J., Garate, J. I., Jordà, X., & Rebollo, J. (2019). Power module electronics in HEV/EV applications: New trends in wide-bandgap semiconductor technologies and design aspects. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1364032119304721

Patil, A. S., Patil, A. V., Dighavkar, C. G., Adole, V. A., & Tupe, U. J. (2022). Synthesis techniques and applications of rare earth metal oxides semiconductors: A review. Chemical Physics Letters. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0009261422002226

Radamson, H. H., Zhu, H., Wu, Z., He, X., Lin, H., Liu, J., ... & Wang, G. (2020). State of the art and future perspectives in advanced CMOS technology. Nanomaterials. https://www.mdpi.com/2079-4991/10/8/1555

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Taha Khan

Written by

Taha Khan

Taha graduated from HITEC University Taxila with a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering. During his studies, he worked on several research projects related to Mechanics of Materials, Machine Design, Heat and Mass Transfer, and Robotics. After graduating, Taha worked as a Research Executive for 2 years at an IT company (Immentia). He has also worked as a freelance content creator at Lancerhop. In the meantime, Taha did his NEBOSH IGC certification and expanded his career opportunities.  


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