Fundamentals of Electronics – Analog Electronics (Part Four)

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Unijunction Transistors (UJT)

The behavior of semiconductor materials is exploited through the construction of numerous transistor devices containing various configurations of N-type and P-type materials. The physical arrangement of the materials in relation to each other yields devices with unique behaviors and applications. The transistors described above having two junctions of P-type and N-type materials (PN) are known as bipolar junction transistors. Other more simple transistors can be fashioned with only one junction of the PN semiconductor materials. These are known as unijunction transistors (UJT). [Figure 11-34]

Figure 11-34. A unijunction transistor (UJT).

Figure 11-34. A unijunction transistor (UJT).

The UJT contains one base semiconductor material and a different type of emitter semiconductor material. There is no collector material. One electrode is attached to the emitter and two electrodes are attached to the base material at opposite ends. These are known as base 1 (B1) and base 2 (B2). The electrode configuration makes the UJT appear physically the same as a bipolar junction transistor. However, there is only one PN junction in the UJT and it behaves differently.

The base material of a UJT behaves like a resistor between the electrodes. With B2 positive with respect to B1, voltage gradually drops as it flows through the base. [Figure 11-35] By placing the emitter at a precise location along the base material gradient, the amount of voltage needed to be applied to the emitter electrode to forward bias the UJT base-emitter junction is determined. When the applied emitter voltage exceeds the voltage at the gradient point where the emitter is attached, the junction is forward biased and current flows freely from the B1 electrode to the E electrode. Otherwise, the junction is reversed biased and no significant current flows although there is some leakage. By selecting a UJT with the correct bias level for a particular circuit, the applied emitter voltage can control current flow through the device.

Figure 11-35. The voltage gradient in a UJT.

Figure 11-35. The voltage gradient in a UJT.

UJTs transistors of a wide variety of designs and characteristics exist. A description of all of them is beyond the scope of this discussion. In general, UJTs have some advantages over bipolar transistors. They are stable in a wide range of temperatures. In some circuits, use of UJTs can reduce the overall number of components used, which saves money and potentially increases reliability. They can be found in switching circuits, oscillators, and wave shaping circuits. However, four-layered semiconductor thyristors that function the same as the UJT just described are less expensive and most often used.

Field Effect Transistors (FET)

As shown in the triac and the UJT, creative arrangement of semiconductor material types can yield devices with a variety of characteristics. The field effect transistor (FET) is another such device which is commonly used in electronic circuits. Its N- and P-type material configuration is shown in Figure 11-36. A FET contains only one junction of the two types of semiconductor material. It is located at the gate where it contacts the main current carrying portion of the device. Because of this, when an FET has a PN junction, it is known as a junction field effect transistor (JFET). All FETs operate by expanding and contracting the depletion area at the junction of the semiconductor materials.

Figure 11-36. The basic structure of a field effect transistor and its electronic symbol.

Figure 11-36. The basic structure of a field effect transistor and its electronic symbol.

One of the materials in a FET or JFET is called the channel. It is usually the substrate through which the current needing to be controlled flows from a source terminal to a drain terminal. The other type of material intrudes into the channel and acts as the gate. The polarity and amount of voltage applied to the gate can widen or narrow the channel due to expansion or shrinking of the depletion area at the junction of the semiconductors. This increases or decreases the amount of current that can flow through the channel. Enough reversed biased voltage can be applied to the gate to prevent the flow of current through the channel. This allows the FET to act as a switch. It can also be used as a voltage controlled resistance.

FETs are easier to manufacture than bipolar transistors and have the advantage of staying on once current flow begins without continuous gate voltage applied. They have higher impedance than bipolar transistors and operate cooler. This makes their use ideal for integrated circuits where millions of FETs may be in use on the same chip. FETs come in N-channel and P-channel varieties.

Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistors (MOSFETs) and Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS)

The basic FET has been modified in numerous ways and continues to be at the center of faster and smaller electronic component development. A version of the FET widely used is the metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistor (MOSFET). The MOSFET uses a metal gate with a thin insulating material between the gate and the semiconductor material. This essentially creates a capacitor at the gate and eliminates current leakage in this area. Modern versions of the MOSFET have a silicon dioxide insulating layer and many have poly-crystalline silicon gates rather than metal, but the MOSFET name remains and the basic behavioral characteristic are the same. [Figure 11-37]

Figure 11-37. A MOSFET has a metal gate and an oxide layer between it and the semiconductor material to prevent current leakage.

Figure 11-37. A MOSFET has a metal gate and an oxide layer between it and the semiconductor material to prevent current leakage.

As with FETs, MOSFETs come with N-channels or P-channels. They can also be constructed as depletion mode or enhancement mode devices. This is analogous to a switch being normally open or normally closed. Depletion mode MOSFETs have an open channel that is restricted or closed when voltage is applied to the gate (i.e., normally open). Enhancement mode MOSFETs allow no current to flow at zero bias but create a channel for current flow when voltage is applied to the gate (normally closed). No voltage is used when the MOSFETs are at zero bias. Millions of enhancement mode MOSFETs are used in the construction of integrated circuits. They are installed in complimentary pairs such that when one is open, the other is closed. This basic design is known as complementary MOSFET (CMOS), which is the basis for integrated circuit design in nearly all modern electronics. Through the use of these transistors, digital logic gates can be formed and digital circuitry is constructed.

Other more specialized FETs exist. Some of their unique characteristics are owed to design alterations and others to material variations. The transistor devices discussed above use silicon-based semiconductors. But the use of other semiconductor materials can yield variations in performance. Metal semiconductor FETs (MESFETS) for example, are often used in microwave applications. They have a combined metal and semiconductor material at the gate and are typically made from gallium arsenide or indium phosphide. MESFETs are used for their quickness when starting and stopping current flows especially in opposite directions. High electron mobility transistors (HEMT) and pseudomorphic high electron mobility transistors (PHEMT) are also constructed from gallium arsenide semiconductor material and are used for high frequency applications.