Quick Intro to Semiconductors - The Crucial Part to Most Devices

Did you know that there are over 1,000 chips used in a car? Did you also know that the number changed to over 2,000 for an EV car?

Post date: 19/05/2023 – by author

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Semiconductors are critical to the world’s technology and economy as they are integrated into various electronic devices, such as cell phones, computers, televisions, cars, solar cells, or even sex toys!

Since semiconductor is a key driver of economic growth, the increasing new technology adoption, such as AI or IoT, will require more powerful and advanced semiconductors. That’s why we can see the competition between nations in semiconductor development.

What are semiconductors?

Semiconductors are materials with electrical conductivity between an insulator and a conductor widely used in electronic devices.

Semiconductor Materials

Unlike regular conductors (i.e., metals), that resistivity rises along with temperature, semiconductor resistivity falls when their temperature rises. These are the most common semiconductor materials:

The most common semiconductor materials are the following:

  • Silicon
    Silicon is inexpensive and plentiful, which makes it the most common material of semiconductors.
  • Germanium, gallium arsenide, and indium phosphide
    These materials are more expensive than silicon, but they have advantages in higher electron mobility and a wider band gap.
  • Cadmium telluride
    Cadmium telluride is expensive but very toxic; thus, it is minimally adopted.
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How many types are semiconductors?

There are 2 main types of semiconductors.

1. Intrinsic semiconductors

They are very pure semiconductors with no impurities and low electrical conductivity. Examples are silicon and germanium. 

2. Extrinsic semiconductors

Unlike Intrinsic types, extrinsic semiconductors have better electrical conductivity by doping some impurities. 

2.1 N-type semiconductors

This type is doped with an element that introduces extra electrons, resulting in a higher electrical conductivity than P-Type. Dopants’ examples are phosphorus-doped silicon or arsenic-doped germanium. 

2.2 P-type semiconductors

P-type is doped with an element with fewer electrons than the semiconductor which resulting in a lower electrical conductivity. Dopants’ examples are boron-doped silicon or gallium-doped germanium.

2.3 Junction semiconductors

A combination of N-type and P-type regions, this type is regularly used in electronic devices, such as transistors and diodes. Examples are silicon diodes and bipolar junction transistors (BJTs).

About Doping

Doping is the process of adding a small quantity of an impurity atom, called a “Dopant“, to a semiconductor material to change its electrical properties. Doping can increase or decrease a semiconductor material’s conductivity and is critical for semiconductor device production. It creates a variety of different kinds of devices, including transistors, diodes, and integrated circuits.

What is a nanometer?

A nanometer (nm) is a unit of length equal to one billionth of a meter and is used to measure the size of semiconductors’ transistors. Transistors are the basic building blocks of all semiconductors in different sizes. These sizes have a highly significant impact on the performance and power consumption of the semiconductor.

The simple rule is that the semiconductor’s performance increases when the transistor’s size decreases, as it can switch faster and consume less energy. At present, the smallest semiconductor is 3nm, which Samsung and TSMC have produced.

What are examples of semiconductor products?

Semiconductor products are used in a wide range of applications, from computers to medical imaging devices. Here are some examples: Microprocessor Unit, CMOS image sensor, Negative-AND, and Dynamic Random-Access Memory.

Microprocessor Unit (MPU)

Like the human brain, this semiconductor device performs a computer central processing function (CPU) that carries out the instructions stored in the computer’s memory.

CMOS image sensor

Like the human brain, this semiconductor device performs a computer central processing function (CPU) that carries out the instructions stored in the computer’s memory.

Negative-AND (NAND)

Like the human brain’s short-term memory, this semiconductor device functioned to store data. NAND memory is a type of flash memory that is deletable and programmable several times.

Dynamic Random-Access Memory (DRAM)

Like the human brain’s long-term memory, DRAM has a duty to store data that is currently in active use by a computer. However, DRAM memory has some drawbacks, including its volatility and loss of data when lacking power.

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The semiconductor industry is significantly essential to drive the world’s economic growth and technological development. However, there are challenges, for instance, geopolitical tensions, supply chain issues, or the difficulty in developing smaller sizes of semiconductors. Overall, it would be very beneficial to explore this industry further.

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