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Semiconductor physics

A semiconductor is a material which has electrical conductivity between that of a conductor such as copper and an insulator such as glass. The conductivity of a semiconductor increases with increasing temperature, behaviour opposite to that of a metal. Semiconductors can display a range of useful properties such as passing current more easily in one direction than the other. Because the conductive properties of a semiconductor can be modified by controlled addition of impurities or by the application of electrical fields or light, semiconductors are very useful devices for amplification of signals, switching, and energy conversion. Understanding the properties of semiconductors relies on quantum physics to explain the motions of electrons through a lattice of atoms.

Current conduction in a semiconductor occurs via free electrons and "holes", collectively known as charge carriers. Adding impurity atoms to a semiconducting material, known as "doping", greatly increases the number of charge carriers within it. When a doped semiconductor contains excess holes it is called "p-type", and when it contains excess free electrons it is known as "n-type". The semiconductor material used in devices is doped under highly controlled conditions to precisely control the location and concentration of p- and n-type dopants. A single semiconductor crystal can have multiple p- and n-type regions; the p–n junctions between these regions have many useful electronic properties and characteristics.

Semiconductors are the foundation of modern electronics, including radio, computers, and telephones. Semiconductor-based electronic components include transistors, solar cells, many kinds of diodes including the light-emitting diode (LED), the silicon controlled rectifier, photo-diodes, and digital and analog integrated circuits. Increasing understanding of semiconductor materials and fabrication processes has made possible continuing increases in the complexity and speed of semiconductor devices, an effect known as Moore's law.