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Intrinsic Semiconductors

In this article, you will learn about the fundamentals of intrinsic semiconductors, including their definition, energy band structure, and charge carriers. You’ll discover how intrinsic carrier concentration affects these materials and the role temperature plays in their behavior. The article will also cover current conduction mechanisms and optical properties of intrinsic semiconductors. Furthermore, you’ll be introduced to various applications, such as solar cells, photodetectors, and optical communication systems, as well as examples of intrinsic semiconductor materials like silicon, germanium, gallium arsenide, and indium phosphide.

Basics of Intrinsic Semiconductors

Definition and Role

Intrinsic semiconductors are a class of materials that exhibit properties between that of conductors and insulators. These materials have a relatively low number of charge carriers (often electrons) under normal conditions, resulting in a moderate conductivity. Unlike extrinsic semiconductors, which are artificially doped with impurities to increase their conductivity, intrinsic semiconductors are in their purest form without any added impurities.

The role of intrinsic semiconductors is evident in the electronic devices we use daily. They are the fundamental building blocks of many semiconductor devices, such as diodes, transistors, and solar cells. Their unique characteristics enable the manipulation of charge carriers, which allows for the control of electrical current in a wide range of applications.

Energy Band Structure

To understand the behavior of intrinsic semiconductors, it is essential to analyze their energy band structure. The energy bands comprise different levels of energy associated with the movement of electrons within the crystal lattice of a material. There are two primary bands to consider: the valence band and the conduction band.

Valence Band

The valence band consists of the energy levels occupied by the outermost electrons of atoms in the material. These electrons are involved in the formation of chemical bonds between atoms and act as the primary source of electrical conductivity. The valence band is said to be filled when all the available energy levels are occupied by electrons. In conductors and intrinsic semiconductors, the valence band is partially filled, allowing for the flow of electrical current. In insulators, the valence band is completely filled, preventing any electron flow.

Conduction Band

The conduction band consists of energy levels higher than those in the valence band. Electrons in this band are considered free, meaning they are not involved in the formation of chemical bonds and can move freely throughout the material. The conduction band is typically empty or only partially filled with electrons, leading to higher electrical conductivity in the material. The presence of electrons in the conduction band is primarily responsible for the transport of electrical current in a semiconductor.

Forbidden Energy Gap

The forbidden energy gap (or bandgap) is the energy difference between the valence band and the conduction band in a material. This gap essentially separates the bound electrons in the valence band from the free electrons in the conduction band. In insulators, the gap is considerable, making it difficult for electrons to jump from the valence band to the conduction band. In semiconductors, the gap is smaller, allowing electrons to transition more easily, leading to more significant electrical conductivity.

Charge Carriers in Intrinsic Semiconductors

To understand the electrical conductivity in intrinsic semiconductors, it is crucial to consider the two types of charge carriers: electrons and holes.


Electrons are negatively charged particles that play a crucial role in determining the electrical properties of a material. In semiconductors, electrons can be excited from the valence band to the conduction band by absorbing sufficient energy, such as heat or light. Once in the conduction band, these free electrons can move freely throughout the material, contributing to the electrical current.


Holes are the positive charge carriers created in the valence band whenever an electron is excited to the conduction band, leaving behind an empty energy level. These holes can also contribute to electrical conductivity in a material. When an electron from a neighboring atom fills a hole, a new hole is formed in its place, allowing for the continuous movement of holes, parallel to the flow of electrons.

In summary, intrinsic semiconductors are pure materials with unique electrical properties that allow for the manipulation of charge carriers. Their energy band structure, consisting of the valence band, conduction band, and forbidden energy gap, is crucial in understanding their behavior. This may interest you : Transatlantic Cooperation on Semiconductors | Strengthening Transatlantic Cooperation. Ultimately, the electrons and holes in these materials are responsible for transporting electrical current and enabling the functionality of various electronic devices.

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Intrinsic Carrier Concentration

Concept and Definition

Intrinsic Carrier Concentration, a key parameter within the field of semiconductor physics, represents the concentration of charge carriers in an undoped or pure semiconductor at a specific temperature. See the article : China against US plan to boost domestic semiconductor production: Biden. Charge carriers in semiconductors can be electrons or holes, and the intrinsic carrier concentration refers to the number of free electrons (n) and holes (p) present in a unit volume.

In an intrinsic semiconductor, such as silicon or germanium, atoms form a crystal lattice structure through covalent bonds. At low temperatures, the electrons are within the valence band and no charge carriers are available, meaning the semiconductor behaves as an insulator. However, as the temperature increases, electrons gain more energy and move from the valence band to the conduction band, leaving behind empty energy states or holes in the valence band. The intrinsic carrier concentration then depends on the number of these charge carriers created due to thermal energy.

For intrinsic semiconductors, the concentration of electrons and holes is equal (n = p = n_i), which is called the intrinsic carrier concentration (n_i). The equation to calculate the intrinsic charge carrier concentration depends on the energy gap, vibration energy of the crystal lattice, and the material constant.

Temperature Dependence

The intrinsic carrier concentration (n_i) depends heavily on temperature, and a notable feature of intrinsic semiconductors is the exponential nature of this dependency. See the article : Russia’s sanctions on Ukraine exacerbate chip shortages as the US, Europe race China. As the temperature increases, the number of thermally generated electron-hole pairs (charge carriers) also increases.

The relationship between temperature and the intrinsic carrier concentration can be expressed by the following equation:

n_i = AT^(3/2) * e^(-Eg/(2kT))

– n_i represents the intrinsic carrier concentration
– A is a material-dependent constant
– T is the temperature in Kelvin
– Eg is the energy gap between the conduction and valence bands
– k is the Boltzmann constant

From this equation, we can observe that with increasing temperature, the intrinsic carrier concentration increases exponentially due to the thermal energy overcoming the energy gap (Eg) between the valence and conduction bands.

However, it is important to note that extremely high temperatures can lead to the ionization of impurity atoms or the breakdown of the crystal lattice structure, leading to a decrease in carrier concentration.

Fermi Level in Intrinsic Semiconductors

The Fermi level (E_F) is an important concept in semiconductor physics, as it represents the energy level at which the probability of finding a charge carrier (electron or hole) is 50%. In other words, it refers to the highest energy state that an electron can occupy in a semiconductor material at absolute zero temperature.

In the case of intrinsic semiconductors, the Fermi level is situated exactly halfway between the valence band (E_V) and the conduction band (E_C). Since the electron and hole concentrations are equal in an intrinsic semiconductor (n = p = n_i), the Fermi level is closer to the middle of the energy gap.

The Fermi energy level for an intrinsic semiconductor can be determined by the following equation:

E_F = (E_C + E_V)/2 + (3/4)kT ln(m_p/m_n)

– E_C is the edge of the conduction band
– E_V is the edge of the valence band
– k is the Boltzmann constant
– T is the temperature in Kelvin
– m_p and m_n are the effective masses of holes and electrons, respectively

In summary, the intrinsic carrier concentration is a crucial parameter in understanding the behavior of semiconductors, especially in regard to temperature dependence and the Fermi level. These factors play important roles in the development of semiconductor devices and technologies.

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Current Conduction in Intrinsic Semiconductors

Intrinsic semiconductors are pure semiconducting materials without any impurities or dopants. The current conduction in these materials is due to the motion of both electrons and holes, the two types of charge carriers. This section explores the mechanisms of current conduction in intrinsic semiconductors, specifically focusing on drift and diffusion, charge carrier mobility, intrinsic conductivity, and the effect of temperature on conductivity.

Drift and Diffusion Mechanisms

There are two main mechanisms that contribute to current conduction in intrinsic semiconductors: drift and diffusion. Drift is the motion of charge carriers in response to an external electric field. Electrons and holes in the conduction and valence bands, respectively, are accelerated by the electric field, leading to a net flow of charge in the semiconductor.

Diffusion, on the other hand, is the natural movement of charge carriers from regions of higher concentration to those of lower concentration, driven by a concentration gradient. The diffusion current is given by Fick’s law, which states that the current density is proportional to the concentration gradient of the carriers.

In an intrinsic semiconductor, both drift and diffusion contribute to the overall current conduction. The electric field-dependent drift current is more prominent when an external voltage is applied to the material, whereas the diffusion current dominates when the semiconductor is in thermal equilibrium.

Mobility of Charge Carriers

The mobility of charge carriers in a semiconductor is an important parameter that characterizes the ease with which the carriers can move through the material in response to an electric field or a concentration gradient. It depends on factors such as the lattice structure, crystal imperfections, and temperature.

Electron Mobility

Electron mobility in semiconductors is influenced significantly by the forces experienced by the electrons, such as scattering effects due to lattice vibrations (phonons), ionized impurities, and other electrons. Higher electron mobility allows for a greater drift velocity under the influence of an electric field, which leads to increased conductivity.

Hole Mobility

Hole mobility follows a similar principle to electron mobility, where the ease of movement is influenced by various lattice disturbances and impurities. However, since holes represent the absence of an electron in the valence band, their effective mass is typically greater than that of electrons, resulting in lower overall hole mobility in comparison to electron mobility.

Intrinsic Conductivity

Intrinsic conductivity is the electrical conductivity of a pure semiconductor in the absence of any impurities or dopants. It is determined by the concentration and mobility of both electrons and holes as charge carriers. The relationship between conductivity (σ), carrier concentration (n and p for electrons and holes, respectively), charge (q), and mobility (μ) is given by the formula:

σ = q(nμ_n + pμ_p)

For intrinsic semiconductors, the electron and hole concentrations are equal (n = p = ni), and the intrinsic conductivity solely depends on the product of ni and the sum of the electron and hole mobilities.

Effect of Temperature on Conductivity

Temperature plays a significant role in affecting the conductivity of intrinsic semiconductors. As temperature increases, the energy of lattice vibrations (phonons) in the material also increases, resulting in the promotion of more electrons from the valence band to the conduction band. This, in turn, leads to an increase in the concentration of both electrons and holes. Consequently, the intrinsic conductivity of the semiconductor increases exponentially with temperature.

However, it is essential to note that the mobility of charge carriers is negatively affected by temperature. At high temperatures, the increased lattice vibrations cause more frequent scattering of charge carriers, reducing the mobility of both electrons and holes. Despite the reduction in mobility, the overall effect of temperature on intrinsic conductivity is still dominated by the increase in charge carrier concentration, and thus the conductivity increases with temperature.

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Optical Properties of Intrinsic Semiconductors

Intrinsic semiconductors are materials that are made of a single type of atom with a perfect crystal lattice structure. These materials exhibit semiconducting properties without the introduction of impurities or dopants. The optical properties of intrinsic semiconductors are critical in many electronic and optoelectronic devices such as solar cells, photodetectors, and light-emitting diodes. This article will discuss the absorption and emission of light, photovoltaic effect, and electroluminescence in intrinsic semiconductors.

Absorption and Emission of Light

Intrinsic semiconductors absorb and emit light through their interaction with photons, which are the fundamental particles that constitute light. When a photon with sufficient energy interacts with a semiconductor, it can excite an electron from the valence band to the conduction band. This process, known as photoexcitation or photon absorption, creates an electron-hole pair in the semiconductor material. The energy required for this process is equal to or greater than the bandgap energy of the material. The bandgap is the energy difference between the highest occupied energy level of the valence band and the lowest unoccupied energy level of the conduction band.

On the other hand, the recombination of an electron with a hole in the semiconductor can lead to the emission of a photon as the electron returns to its original energy state in the valence band. This process, called radiative recombination, is the basis for light emission in semiconductor materials. The energy of the emitted photon is related to the semiconductor’s bandgap, and the wavelength of the light emitted depends on the material’s properties.

Several factors can affect the absorption and emission of light in intrinsic semiconductors, including the thickness, temperature, and crystalline quality of the material. In general, thicker semiconductor materials can absorb more light, while higher temperatures and better crystalline quality improve the efficiency of light emission.

Photovoltaic Effect

The photovoltaic effect is the conversion of light energy into electrical energy using a semiconductor material. When light is incident on a semiconductor, photons with energy equal to or greater than the bandgap can create electron-hole pairs through photon absorption. These electron-hole pairs can be separated by an internal electric field, generating a photocurrent and a photovoltage. The internal electric field can be created by the presence of a p-n junction or by the built-in potential in a Schottky barrier.

The efficiency of the photovoltaic effect depends on several factors, including the semiconductor material, the light absorption coefficient, and the electron-hole pair generation and recombination rates. Intrinsic semiconductors can exhibit good photovoltaic performance, especially when combined with extrinsic semiconductors in a p-n junction or multijunction solar cell.

Silicon, for example, is the most widely used intrinsic semiconductor material for photovoltaic applications due to its suitable bandgap, abundance, and well-established processing techniques. Advanced photovoltaic technologies, such as tandem solar cells and quantum dot-based devices, are being developed to further improve the performance and efficiency of semiconductor-based solar cells.


Electroluminescence is the emission of light from a semiconductor material when an electric current is applied across it. In an electroluminescent device, electrons are injected into the conduction band and holes are injected into the valence band by applying a voltage across the semiconductor. These electrons and holes can recombine, releasing energy in the form of photons and resulting in light emission.

The color of the light emitted by the electroluminescent device depends on the semiconductor’s bandgap energy. Materials with wider bandgaps emit shorter wavelengths of light, while those with narrower bandgaps emit longer wavelengths. Intrinsic semiconductors, such as gallium nitride (GaN) and indium gallium nitride (InGaN), have been widely used for producing blue and green light-emitting diodes (LEDs) due to their large bandgap energies and high quantum efficiencies.

Some of the important factors that determine the efficiency of electroluminescence in an intrinsic semiconductor include the quality of the material, the injection efficiency of the carrier, and the radiative recombination rate. Advanced techniques, such as heterostructures and quantum well structures, have been used to improve the electroluminescence efficiency in devices like LEDs and laser diodes.

Applications of Intrinsic Semiconductors

Intrinsic semiconductors, also known as pure semiconductors, are materials that are neither good conductors nor good insulators. They contain covalent bonds with equal numbers of electrons and holes (conduction electron and valence hole pair) that contribute to electrical conduction under the influence of an electric field. These materials have a wide range of applications in various industries and fields, including solar cells, photodetectors, thermal detectors, and optical communication systems.

Solar Cells

One of the most prevalent applications of intrinsic semiconductors is in solar cells, also known as photovoltaic cells. These devices convert sunlight into electrical energy through the photovoltaic effect. When photons from sunlight are absorbed by a solar cell, the energy is transferred to the electrons and holes within the semiconductor material. This energy causes the electrons and holes to become mobile, resulting in an electrical current.

Intrinsic semiconductor materials, such as silicon, are commonly used in solar cells due to their ability to generate a strong electric field in the presence of light. This makes them efficient light-absorbing materials with high conversion efficiency. In thin-film solar cell applications, intrinsic amorphous silicon can be used as the absorber layer, improving the overall efficiency of the solar cell.

Intrinsic semiconductors can also be combined with other materials in heterojunction solar cells, such as combining amorphous silicon with crystalline silicon or other materials, resulting in enhancements in photovoltaic performance.


Photodetectors are devices that detect and measure the intensity of light. They work on the principle of generating an electrical signal in response to the absorption of photons by a semiconductor material. Intrinsic semiconductors are widely used in photodetectors because their electrical conductivity increases significantly under light exposure. This characteristic makes them ideal for detecting light and converting it into an electrical signal.

Some examples of photodetectors that use intrinsic semiconductors include photoresistors, photodiodes, photomultiplier tubes, and charge-coupled devices (CCDs). These devices are commonly found in various applications, such as digital cameras, night-vision devices, spectroscopy instruments, and laser-based systems.

Thermal Detectors

Intrinsic semiconductors can also be utilized in thermal detectors, which convert temperature changes into electrical signals. They have a temperature-dependent electrical conductivity, meaning their conductivity increases with temperature. This property allows intrinsic semiconductors to be used in various temperature sensing applications, such as bolometers and thermistors.

Bolometers, for example, are devices that detect and measure infrared radiation by monitoring changes in material resistance induced by temperature fluctuations. Since intrinsic semiconductors display significant changes in conductivity with temperature, they are highly sensitive to thermal variations and can detect small changes in infrared radiation.

Thermistors, on the other hand, are temperature-sensitive resistors that incorporate intrinsic semiconductors to determine temperature changes by measuring their resistance. They are commonly employed in thermal sensing and control applications, such as temperature monitoring and regulation systems for equipment, automobiles, and buildings.

Optical Communication Systems

Optical communication systems rely on the conversion of electrical signals into light signals and vice versa. These systems use various semiconductor devices, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs), lasers, and photodetectors, to achieve this conversion. These devices depend on semiconductor materials like intrinsic semiconductors to function effectively.

Intrinsic semiconductors, when combined with other materials, can form optoelectronic devices that efficiently generate and detect light in optical communication applications. They play a significant role in the development of high-speed communication networks, such as fiber-optic systems and wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) technologies.

These applications of intrinsic semiconductors underline their significance within the electronics and information technology sectors. Ongoing research and advancements in these areas continue to expand the scope of utilization for intrinsic semiconductors and enhance the overall efficiency and capabilities of the devices they are integrated into.

Material Examples of Intrinsic Semiconductors

Intrinsic semiconductors are pure materials that exhibit semiconducting properties due to their crystal structure and lack of impurities. Intrinsic semiconductors are essential in the electronics industry, as they help create electronic devices and circuits. Some examples of intrinsic semiconductors include elemental semiconductors, such as silicon (Si) and germanium (Ge), and compound semiconductors, like gallium arsenide (GaAs) and indium phosphide (InP).

Elemental Semiconductors

These are semiconductors made from single elements, specifically from group IV elements of the periodic table, which have four valence electrons. The two most common examples are silicon and germanium.

Silicon (Si)

Silicon is the most widely used semiconductor material due to its abundance and excellent semiconductor properties. Its crystal lattice structure results in a stable electron configuration, which is instrumental in its use as a semiconductor.

Silicon has an indirect band gap, meaning that electrons transitioning between the valence and conduction bands do not emit or absorb photons efficiently. This property makes silicon unsuitable for light-emitting applications, but it is ideal for many other applications such as integrated circuits, transistors, and photovoltaic cells.

Furthermore, silicon is chemically stable and can form a very thin layer of silicon dioxide (SiO2) on its surface, which acts as an insulator. This property is advantageous in various electronic devices since the insulator can isolate the semiconductor from its environment and protect the device from contamination.

Germanium (Ge)

Another example of an elemental semiconductor is germanium, which was actually the first material used to create transistors due to its high electron mobility, meaning that electrons can move more easily through the material. However, germanium is much less abundant than silicon and has a smaller bandgap, making its devices more sensitive to temperature and radiation.

Despite these drawbacks, germanium still has certain advantages, such as its direct bandgap, which allows it to emit light efficiently. This property makes germanium a suitable choice for specialized applications such as infrared detectors, solar cells, and optical communication devices.

Compound Semiconductors

Compound semiconductors, as the name suggests, are formed by combining two or more elements, usually from groups III and V or groups II and VI of the periodic table. These semiconductors offer several advantages over elemental semiconductors, such as higher electron mobility, direct bandgaps, and the ability to be tailored to specific applications by adjusting their composition. The two most common examples are gallium arsenide and indium phosphide.

Gallium Arsenide (GaAs)

Gallium arsenide is a compound semiconductor that combines gallium (Ga) and arsenic (As). It has several advantages over silicon, such as a direct bandgap, higher electron mobility, and higher saturation velocity. These properties make GaAs suitable for high-speed electronic devices, optoelectronic devices such as LEDs and lasers, microwave electronics, and solar cells.

However, GaAs is more expensive and difficult to process than silicon, limiting its widespread use. Additionally, the toxic nature of arsenic raises concerns from an environmental and health standpoint.

Indium Phosphide (InP)

Indium phosphide is another compound semiconductor, which combines indium (In) and phosphorus (P). It has similar properties to gallium arsenide, such as a direct bandgap and high electron mobility, making it suitable for high-speed electronics and optoelectronics.

Indium phosphide has specific advantages over GaAs, such as even higher electron mobility, a lower refractive index, and stronger resistance to radiation damage. These properties make InP an ideal choice for specialized applications such as fiber-optic communication systems, advanced solar cells, and long-wavelength lasers.

However, indium phosphide is also expensive to produce and the rarity of indium presents potential supply chain issues. Nevertheless, InP continues to play an essential role in developing advanced optoelectronic and electronic devices.

What is the unique characteristic of intrinsic semiconductors?

Intrinsic semiconductors are pure materials, typically silicon or germanium, with balanced quantities of electrons and holes. Their electrical conductivity relies solely on the properties of the material itself and is not influenced by any dopants or impurities.

How do intrinsic semiconductors function at different temperatures?

The conductivity of intrinsic semiconductors increases with rising temperatures. As temperature rises, thermal energy allows electrons to break free from their parent atoms, creating electron-hole pairs, which contribute to the increased conductivity of the material.

What influences the electrical conductivity of intrinsic semiconductors?

Electrical conductivity in intrinsic semiconductors depends on the number of electron-hole pairs generated and their mobility. Factors such as the pure material’s properties like bandgap energy, electron affinity, and effective mass can influence the conductivity.

Why are intrinsic semiconductors not suitable for fabricating electronic components?

Intrinsic semiconductors possess limited electrical conductivity, which makes them unsuitable for fabricating electronic components like transistors and diodes. Extrinsic semiconductors, created by doping intrinsic materials with impurities, provide better control over conductivity and enable diverse applications.

How does the energy band structure in intrinsic semiconductors impact their properties?

In intrinsic semiconductors, the valence band is fully occupied, and the conduction band is vacant at absolute zero temperature. The energy gap that separates these bands influences the materials’ properties, determining how easily electrons can be thermally excited to the conduction band.

What role do intrinsic semiconductors play in the formation of p-n junctions?

Intrinsic semiconductors are essential for forming p-n junctions. By selectively doping regions of the intrinsic semiconductor with acceptor or donor impurities, p- and n- type extrinsic semiconductors are created. When combined, these produce the p-n junction, a fundamental component in many electronic devices.

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