- Charge carriers in semiconductors
There are two recognized types of charge carriers in semiconductors. One of them is electrons, which carry negative electric charge. In addition, it is convenient to treat the traveling vacancies in the valence-band electron population (holes) as the second type of charge carriers, which carry a positive charge equal in magnitude to that of an electron.
Carrier generation and recombination
When an electron meets with a hole, they recombine and these free carriers effectively vanish. The energy released can be either thermal, heating up the semiconductor (thermal recombination, one of the sources of waste heat in semiconductors), or released as photons (optical recombination, used in LEDs and semiconductor lasers).
Majority and minority carriers
The more abundant charge carriers are called majority carriers. In n-type semiconductors they are electrons, while in p-type semiconductors they are holes. The less abundant charge carriers are called minority carriers; in n-type semiconductors they are holes, while in p-type semiconductors they are electrons.
In an intrinsic semiconductor the concentrations of both types of carriers are ideally equal.
Minority carriers play an important role in bipolar transistors and solar cells. Their role in field-effect transistors (FETs) is a bit more complex: for example, a MOSFET has both p-type and n-type regions. The transistor action involves the majority carriers of the source and drain regions, but these carriers traverse the body of the opposite type, where they are minority carriers. However, the traversing carriers hugely outnumber their opposite type in the transfer region (in fact, the opposite type carriers are removed by an applied electric field that creates an inversion layer), so conventionally the source and drain designation for the carriers is adopted, and FETs are called "majority carrier" devices.
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