Figure 1: Closeup of a diode, showing the square shaped semiconductor crystal (black object on left).
Figure 2: Various semiconductor diodes. Bottom: A bridge rectifier. In most diodes, a white or black painted band identifies the cathode terminal, that is, the terminal which conventional current flows out of when the diode is conducting.
Figure 3: Structure of a vacuum tube diode. The filament may be bare, or more commonly (as shown here), embedded within and insulated from an enclosing cathode

In electronics, a diode is a type of two-terminal electronic component with a nonlinear current–voltage characteristic. A semiconductor diode, the most common type today, is a crystalline piece of semiconductor material connected to two electrical terminals.[1] A vacuum tube diode (now rarely used except in some high-power technologies) is a vacuum tube with two electrodes: a plate and a cathode.

The most common function of a diode is to allow an electric current to pass in one direction (called the diode's forward direction), while blocking current in the opposite direction (the reverse direction). Thus, the diode can be thought of as an electronic version of a check valve. This unidirectional behavior is called rectification, and is used to convert alternating current to direct current, and to extract modulation from radio signals in radio receivers.

However, diodes can have more complicated behavior than this simple on–off action. Semiconductor diodes do not begin conducting electricity until a certain threshold voltage is present in the forward direction (a state in which the diode is said to be forward biased). The voltage drop across a forward biased diode varies only a little with the current, and is a function of temperature; this effect can be used as a temperature sensor or voltage reference.

Semiconductor diodes have nonlinear electrical characteristics, which can be tailored by varying the construction of their P–N junction. These are exploited in special purpose diodes that perform many different functions. For example, diodes are used to regulate voltage (Zener diodes), to protect circuits from high voltage surges (Avalanche diodes), to electronically tune radio and TV receivers (varactor diodes), to generate radio frequency oscillations (tunnel diodes, Gunn diodes, IMPATT diodes), and to produce light (light emitting diodes). Tunnel diodes exhibit negative resistance, which makes them useful in some types of circuits.

Diodes were the first semiconductor electronic devices. The discovery of crystals' rectifying abilities was made by German physicist Ferdinand Braun in 1874. The first semiconductor diodes, called cat's whisker diodes, developed around 1906, were made of mineral crystals such as galena. Today most diodes are made of silicon, but other semiconductors such as germanium are sometimes used.[2]



Although the crystal semiconductor diode was popular before the thermionic diode, thermionic and solid state diodes were developed in parallel.

In 1873 Frederick Guthrie discovered the basic principle of operation of thermionic diodes.[3] Guthrie discovered that a positively charged electroscope could be discharged by bringing a grounded piece of white-hot metal close to it (but not actually touching it). The same did not apply to a negatively charged electroscope, indicating that the current flow was only possible in one direction.

Thomas Edison independently rediscovered the principle on February 13, 1880. At the time, Edison was investigating why the filaments of his carbon-filament light bulbs nearly always burned out at the positive-connected end. He had a special bulb made with a metal plate sealed into the glass envelope. Using this device, he confirmed that an invisible current flowed from the glowing filament through the vacuum to the metal plate, but only when the plate was connected to the positive supply.

Edison devised a circuit where his modified light bulb effectively replaced the resistor in a DC voltmeter. Edison was awarded a patent for this invention in 1884.[4] There was no apparent practical use for such a device at the time. So, the patent application was most likely simply a precaution in case someone else did find a use for the so-called Edison effect.

About 20 years later, John Ambrose Fleming (scientific adviser to the Marconi Company and former Edison employee) realized that the Edison effect could be used as a precision radio detector. Fleming patented the first true thermionic diode in Britain on November 16, 1904[5] (followed by U.S. Patent 803,684 in November 1905).

In 1874 German scientist Karl Ferdinand Braun discovered the "unilateral conduction" of crystals.[6] Braun patented the crystal rectifier in 1899.[7] Copper oxide and selenium rectifiers were developed for power applications in the 1930s.

Indian scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose was the first to use a crystal for detecting radio waves in 1894.[citation needed] The crystal detector was developed into a practical device for wireless radio reception by Greenleaf Whittier Pickard, who invented a silicon crystal detector in 1903 and received a patent for it on November 20, 1906.[8] Other experimenters tried a variety of other substances, of which the most widely used was the mineral galena (lead sulfide). Other substances offered slightly better performance, but galena was most widely used because it had the advantage of being cheap and easy to obtain. The crystal detector in these early radio sets consisted of an adjustable wire point-contact (the so-called "cat's whisker") which could be manually moved over the face of the crystal in order to obtain optimum signal. This troublesome device was quickly superseded by thermionic diodes, but the crystal detector later returned to dominant use with the advent of inexpensive fixed-germanium diodes in the 1950s.

At the time of their invention, such devices were known as rectifiers. In 1919, William Henry Eccles coined the term diode from the Greek roots dia, meaning "through", and ode (from ὅδος), meaning "path".

Thermionic and gaseous-state diodes

Figure 4: The symbol for an indirect heated vacuum-tube diode. From top to bottom, the components are the anode, the cathode, and the heater filament.

Thermionic diodes are thermionic-valve devices (also known as vacuum tubes, tubes, or valves), which are arrangements of electrodes surrounded by a vacuum within a glass envelope. Early examples were fairly similar in appearance to incandescent light bulbs.

In thermionic-valve diodes, a current through the heater filament indirectly heats the cathode, another internal electrode treated with a mixture of barium and strontium oxides, which are oxides of alkaline earth metals; these substances are chosen because they have a small work function. (Some valves use direct heating, in which a tungsten filament acts as both heater and cathode.) The heat causes thermionic emission of electrons into the vacuum. In forward operation, a surrounding metal electrode called the anode is positively charged so that it electrostatically attracts the emitted electrons. However, electrons are not easily released from the unheated anode surface when the voltage polarity is reversed. Hence, any reverse flow is negligible.

For much of the 20th century, valve diodes were used in analog signal applications, and as rectifiers in many power supplies. Today, valve diodes are only used in niche applications such as rectifiers in electric guitar and high-end audio amplifiers as well as specialized high-voltage equipment.

Semiconductor diodes

Figure 7: Typical diode packages in same alignment as diode symbol. Thin bar depicts the cathode.

A modern semiconductor diode is made of a crystal of semiconductor like silicon that has impurities added to it to create a region on one side that contains negative charge carriers (electrons), called n-type semiconductor, and a region on the other side that contains positive charge carriers (holes), called p-type semiconductor. The diode's terminals are attached to each of these regions. The boundary within the crystal between these two regions, called a PN junction, is where the action of the diode takes place. The crystal conducts a current of electrons in a direction from the N-type side (called the cathode) to the P-type side (called the anode), but not in the opposite direction. However, conventional current flows from anode to cathode in the direction of the arrow (opposite to the electron flow, since electrons have negative charge).

Another type of semiconductor diode, the Schottky diode, is formed from the contact between a metal and a semiconductor rather than by a p–n junction.

Current–voltage characteristic

A semiconductor diode’s behavior in a circuit is given by its current–voltage characteristic, or I–V graph (see graph below). The shape of the curve is determined by the transport of charge carriers through the so-called depletion layer or depletion region that exists at the p–n junction between differing semiconductors. When a p–n junction is first created, conduction-band (mobile) electrons from the N-doped region diffuse into the P-doped region where there is a large population of holes (vacant places for electrons) with which the electrons "recombine". When a mobile electron recombines with a hole, both hole and electron vanish, leaving behind an immobile positively charged donor (dopant) on the N side and negatively charged acceptor (dopant) on the P side. The region around the p–n junction becomes depleted of charge carriers and thus behaves as an insulator.

However, the width of the depletion region (called the depletion width) cannot grow without limit. For each electron–hole pair that recombines, a positively charged dopant ion is left behind in the N-doped region, and a negatively charged dopant ion is left behind in the P-doped region. As recombination proceeds more ions are created, an increasing electric field develops through the depletion zone which acts to slow and then finally stop recombination. At this point, there is a "built-in" potential across the depletion zone.

If an external voltage is placed across the diode with the same polarity as the built-in potential, the depletion zone continues to act as an insulator, preventing any significant electric current flow (unless electron/hole pairs are actively being created in the junction by, for instance, light. see photodiode). This is the reverse bias phenomenon. However, if the polarity of the external voltage opposes the built-in potential, recombination can once again proceed, resulting in substantial electric current through the p–n junction (i.e. substantial numbers of electrons and holes recombine at the junction). For silicon diodes, the built-in potential is approximately 0.7 V (0.3 V for Germanium and 0.2 V for Schottky). Thus, if an external current is passed through the diode, about 0.7 V will be developed across the diode such that the P-doped region is positive with respect to the N-doped region and the diode is said to be "turned on" as it has a forward bias.

A diode’s 'I–V characteristic' can be approximated by four regions of operation.

Figure 5: I–V characteristics of a P–N junction diode (not to scale – the current in the reverse region is magnified compared to the forward region, resulting in the apparent slope discontinuity at the origin; the actual I–V curve is smooth across the origin).

At very large reverse bias, beyond the peak inverse voltage or PIV, a process called reverse breakdown occurs which causes a large increase in current (i.e. a large number of electrons and holes are created at, and move away from the pn junction) that usually damages the device permanently. The avalanche diode is deliberately designed for use in the avalanche region. In the zener diode, the concept of PIV is not applicable. A zener diode contains a heavily doped p–n junction allowing electrons to tunnel from the valence band of the p-type material to the conduction band of the n-type material, such that the reverse voltage is "clamped" to a known value (called the zener voltage), and avalanche does not occur. Both devices, however, do have a limit to the maximum current and power in the clamped reverse-voltage region. Also, following the end of forward conduction in any diode, there is reverse current for a short time. The device does not attain its full blocking capability until the reverse current ceases.

The second region, at reverse biases more positive than the PIV, has only a very small reverse saturation current. In the reverse bias region for a normal P–N rectifier diode, the current through the device is very low (in the µA range). However, this is temperature dependent, and at sufficiently high temperatures, a substantial amount of reverse current can be observed (mA or more).

The third region is forward but small bias, where only a small forward current is conducted.

As the potential difference is increased above an arbitrarily defined "cut-in voltage" or "on-voltage" or "diode forward voltage drop (Vd)", the diode current becomes appreciable (the level of current considered "appreciable" and the value of cut-in voltage depends on the application), and the diode presents a very low resistance. The current–voltage curve is exponential. In a normal silicon diode at rated currents, the arbitrary cut-in voltage is defined as 0.6 to 0.7 volts. The value is different for other diode types — Schottky diodes can be rated as low as 0.2 V, Germanium diodes 0.25 to 0.3 V, and red or blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) can have values of 1.4 V and 4.0 V respectively.

At higher currents the forward voltage drop of the diode increases. A drop of 1 V to 1.5 V is typical at full rated current for power diodes.

Shockley diode equation

The Shockley ideal diode equation or the diode law (named after transistor co-inventor William Bradford Shockley, not to be confused with tetrode inventor Walter H. Schottky) gives the I–V characteristic of an ideal diode in either forward or reverse bias (or no bias). The equation is:

I=I_\mathrm{S} \left( e^{V_\mathrm{D}/(n V_\mathrm{T})}-1 \right),\,


I is the diode current,
IS is the reverse bias saturation current (or scale current),
VD is the voltage across the diode,
VT is the thermal voltage, and
n is the ideality factor, also known as the quality factor or sometimes emission coefficient. The ideality factor n varies from 1 to 2 depending on the fabrication process and semiconductor material and in many cases is assumed to be approximately equal to 1 (thus the notation n is omitted).

The thermal voltage VT is approximately 25.85 mV at 300 K, a temperature close to "room temperature" commonly used in device simulation software. At any temperature it is a known constant defined by:

V_\mathrm{T} = \frac{k T}{q} \, ,

where k is the Boltzmann constant, T is the absolute temperature of the p–n junction, and q is the magnitude of charge on an electron (the elementary charge).

The Shockley ideal diode equation or the diode law is derived with the assumption that the only processes giving rise to the current in the diode are drift (due to electrical field), diffusion, and thermal recombination–generation (R–G). It also assumes that the R–G current in the depletion region is insignificant. This means that the Shockley equation doesn’t account for the processes involved in reverse breakdown and photon-assisted R–G. Additionally, it doesn’t describe the "leveling off" of the I–V curve at high forward bias due to internal resistance.

Under reverse bias voltages (see Figure 5) the exponential in the diode equation is negligible, and the current is a constant (negative) reverse current value of −IS. The reverse breakdown region is not modeled by the Shockley diode equation.

For even rather small forward bias voltages (see Figure 5) the exponential is very large because the thermal voltage is very small, so the subtracted ‘1’ in the diode equation is negligible and the forward diode current is often approximated as

I=I_\mathrm{S} e^{V_\mathrm{D}/(n V_\mathrm{T})}

The use of the diode equation in circuit problems is illustrated in the article on diode modeling.

Small-signal behavior

For circuit design, a small-signal model of the diode behavior often proves useful. A specific example of diode modeling is discussed in the article on small-signal circuits.

Reverse-recovery effect

Following the end of forward conduction in a PN type diode, a reverse current flows for a short time. The device does not attain its blocking capability until the mobile charge in the junction is depleted.[9]

The effect can be significant when switching large currents very quickly (di/dt on the order of 100 A/µs or more).[10] A certain amount of "reverse recovery time" tr (on the order of tens of nanoseconds) may be required to remove the reverse recovery charge Qr (on the order of tens of nanocoulombs) from the diode. During this recovery time, the diode can actually conduct in the reverse direction. In certain real-world cases it can be important to consider the losses incurred by this non-ideal diode effect.[11] However, when the slew rate of the current is not so severe (di/dt on the order of 10 A/µs or less), the effect can be safely ignored.[12] For most applications, the effect is also negligible for Schottky diodes.

The reverse current ceases abruptly when the stored charge is depleted; this abrupt stop is exploited in step recovery diodes for generation of extremely short pulses.

Types of semiconductor diode

Figure 8: Several types of diodes. The scale is centimeters.

There are several types of junction diodes, which either emphasize a different physical aspect of a diode often by geometric scaling, doping level, choosing the right electrodes, are just an application of a diode in a special circuit, or are really different devices like the Gunn and laser diode and the MOSFET:

Normal (p-n) diodes, which operate as described above, are usually made of doped silicon or, more rarely, germanium. Before the development of modern silicon power rectifier diodes, cuprous oxide and later selenium was used; its low efficiency gave it a much higher forward voltage drop (typically 1.4 to 1.7 V per "cell", with multiple cells stacked to increase the peak inverse voltage rating in high voltage rectifiers), and required a large heat sink (often an extension of the diode’s metal substrate), much larger than a silicon diode of the same current ratings would require. The vast majority of all diodes are the p-n diodes found in CMOS integrated circuits, which include two diodes per pin and many other internal diodes.

Avalanche diodes

Diodes that conduct in the reverse direction when the reverse bias voltage exceeds the breakdown voltage. These are electrically very similar to Zener diodes, and are often mistakenly called Zener diodes, but break down by a different mechanism, the avalanche effect. This occurs when the reverse electric field across the p-n junction causes a wave of ionization, reminiscent of an avalanche, leading to a large current. Avalanche diodes are designed to break down at a well-defined reverse voltage without being destroyed. The difference between the avalanche diode (which has a reverse breakdown above about 6.2 V) and the Zener is that the channel length of the former exceeds the mean free path of the electrons, so there are collisions between them on the way out. The only practical difference is that the two types have temperature coefficients of opposite polarities.

Cat’s whisker or crystal diodes

These are a type of point-contact diode. The cat’s whisker diode consists of a thin or sharpened metal wire pressed against a semiconducting crystal, typically galena or a piece of coal.[13] The wire forms the anode and the crystal forms the cathode. Cat’s whisker diodes were also called crystal diodes and found application in crystal radio receivers. Cat’s whisker diodes are generally obsolete, but may be available from a few manufacturers.[citation needed]

Constant current diodes

These are actually a JFET[14] with the gate shorted to the source, and function like a two-terminal current-limiter analog to the Zener diode, which is limiting voltage. They allow a current through them to rise to a certain value, and then level off at a specific value. Also called CLDs, constant-current diodes, diode-connected transistors, or current-regulating diodes.

Esaki or tunnel diodes

These have a region of operation showing negative resistance caused by quantum tunneling,[15] allowing amplification of signals and very simple bistable circuits. Due to the high carrier concentration, tunnel diodes are very fast, may be used at low (mK) temperatures, high magnetic fields, and in high radiation environments.[16] Because of these properties, they are often used in spacecraft.

Gunn diodes

These are similar to tunnel diodes in that they are made of materials such as GaAs or InP that exhibit a region of negative differential resistance. With appropriate biasing, dipole domains form and travel across the diode, allowing high frequency microwave oscillators to be built.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs)

In a diode formed from a direct band-gap semiconductor, such as gallium arsenide, carriers that cross the junction emit photons when they recombine with the majority carrier on the other side. Depending on the material, wavelengths (or colors)[17] from the infrared to the near ultraviolet may be produced.[18] The forward potential of these diodes depends on the wavelength of the emitted photons: 2.1 V corresponds to red, 4.0 V to violet. The first LEDs were red and yellow, and higher-frequency diodes have been developed over time. All LEDs produce incoherent, narrow-spectrum light; "white" LEDs are actually combinations of three LEDs of a different color, or a blue LED with a yellow scintillator coating. LEDs can also be used as low-efficiency photodiodes in signal applications. An LED may be paired with a photodiode or phototransistor in the same package, to form an opto-isolator.

Laser diodes

When an LED-like structure is contained in a resonant cavity formed by polishing the parallel end faces, a laser can be formed. Laser diodes are commonly used in optical storage devices and for high speed optical communication.

Thermal diodes

This term is used both for conventional PN diodes used to monitor temperature due to their varying forward voltage with temperature, and for Peltier heat pumps for thermoelectric heating and cooling.. Peltier heat pumps may be made from semiconductor, though they do not have any rectifying junctions, they use the differing behaviour of charge carriers in N and P type semiconductor to move heat.


All semiconductors are subject to optical charge carrier generation. This is typically an undesired effect, so most semiconductors are packaged in light blocking material. Photodiodes are intended to sense light(photodetector), so they are packaged in materials that allow light to pass, and are usually PIN (the kind of diode most sensitive to light).[19] A photodiode can be used in solar cells, in photometry, or in optical communications. Multiple photodiodes may be packaged in a single device, either as a linear array or as a two-dimensional array. These arrays should not be confused with charge-coupled devices.

Point-contact diodes

These work the same as the junction semiconductor diodes described above, but their construction is simpler. A block of n-type semiconductor is built, and a conducting sharp-point contact made with some group-3 metal is placed in contact with the semiconductor. Some metal migrates into the semiconductor to make a small region of p-type semiconductor near the contact. The long-popular 1N34 germanium version is still used in radio receivers as a detector and occasionally in specialized analog electronics.

PIN diodes

A PIN diode has a central un-doped, or intrinsic, layer, forming a p-type/intrinsic/n-type structure.[20] They are used as radio frequency switches and attenuators. They are also used as large volume ionizing radiation detectors and as photodetectors. PIN diodes are also used in power electronics, as their central layer can withstand high voltages. Furthermore, the PIN structure can be found in many power semiconductor devices, such as IGBTs, power MOSFETs, and thyristors.

Schottky diodes

Schottky diodes are constructed from a metal to semiconductor contact. They have a lower forward voltage drop than p-n junction diodes. Their forward voltage drop at forward currents of about 1 mA is in the range 0.15 V to 0.45 V, which makes them useful in voltage clamping applications and prevention of transistor saturation. They can also be used as low loss rectifiers although their reverse leakage current is generally higher than that of other diodes. Schottky diodes are majority carrier devices and so do not suffer from minority carrier storage problems that slow down many other diodes — so they have a faster reverse recovery than p–n junction diodes. They also tend to have much lower junction capacitance than p–n diodes which provides for high switching speeds and their use in high-speed circuitry and RF devices such as switched-mode power supply, mixers and detectors.

Super barrier diodes

Super barrier diodes are rectifier diodes that incorporate the low forward voltage drop of the Schottky diode with the surge-handling capability and low reverse leakage current of a normal p-n junction diode.

Gold-doped diodes

As a dopant, gold (or platinum) acts as recombination centers, which help a fast recombination of minority carriers. This allows the diode to operate at signal frequencies, at the expense of a higher forward voltage drop. Gold doped diodes are faster than other p-n diodes (but not as fast as Schottky diodes). They also have less reverse-current leakage than Schottky diodes (but not as good as other p-n diodes).[21][22] A typical example is the 1N914.

Snap-off or Step recovery diodes

The term step recovery relates to the form of the reverse recovery characteristic of these devices. After a forward current has been passing in an SRD and the current is interrupted or reversed, the reverse conduction will cease very abruptly (as in a step waveform). SRDs can therefore provide very fast voltage transitions by the very sudden disappearance of the charge carriers.

Transient voltage suppression diode (TVS)

These are avalanche diodes designed specifically to protect other semiconductor devices from high-voltage transients.[23] Their p-n junctions have a much larger cross-sectional area than those of a normal diode, allowing them to conduct large currents to ground without sustaining damage.

Varicap or varactor diodes

These are used as voltage-controlled capacitors. These are important in PLL (phase-locked loop) and FLL (frequency-locked loop) circuits, allowing tuning circuits, such as those in television receivers, to lock quickly, replacing older designs that took a long time to warm up and lock. A PLL is faster than an FLL, but prone to integer harmonic locking (if one attempts to lock to a broadband signal). They also enabled tunable oscillators in early discrete tuning of radios, where a cheap and stable, but fixed-frequency, crystal oscillator provided the reference frequency for a voltage-controlled oscillator.

Zener diodes

Diodes that can be made to conduct backwards. This effect, called Zener breakdown, occurs at a precisely defined voltage, allowing the diode to be used as a precision voltage reference. In practical voltage reference circuits Zener and switching diodes are connected in series and opposite directions to balance the temperature coefficient to near zero. Some devices labeled as high-voltage Zener diodes are actually avalanche diodes (see above). Two (equivalent) Zeners in series and in reverse order, in the same package, constitute a transient absorber (or Transorb, a registered trademark). The Zener diode is named for Dr. Clarence Melvin Zener of Carnegie Mellon University, inventor of the device.

Other uses for semiconductor diodes include sensing temperature, and computing analog logarithms (see Operational amplifier applications#Logarithmic).

Diode symbol Zener diode symbol Schottky diode symbol Tunnel diode symbol
Diode Zener
LED symbol.svg Photodiode symbol.svg Varicap symbol.svg SCR symbol.svg
Photodiode Varicap Silicon controlled rectifier
Figure 6: Some diode symbols.

Numbering and coding schemes

There are a number of common, standard and manufacturer-driven numbering and coding schemes for diodes; the two most common being the EIA/JEDEC standard and the European Pro Electron standard:


A standardized 1N-series numbering system was introduced in the US by EIA/JEDEC (Joint Electron Device Engineering Council) about 1960. Among the most popular in this series were: 1N34A/1N270 (Germanium signal), 1N914/1N4148 (Silicon signal), 1N4001-1N4007 (Silicon 1A power rectifier) and 1N54xx (Silicon 3A power rectifier)[24][25][26]

Pro Electron

The European Pro Electron coding system for active components was introduced in 1966 and comprises two letters followed by the part code. The first letter represents the semiconductor material used for the component (A = Germanium and B = Silicon) and the second letter represents the general function of the part (for diodes: A = low-power/signal, B = Variable capacitance, X = Multiplier, Y = Rectifier and Z = Voltage reference), for example:

  • AA-series germanium low-power/signal diodes (e.g.: AA119)
  • BA-series silicon low-power/signal diodes (e.g.: BAT18 Silicon RF Switching Diode)
  • BY-series silicon rectifier diodes (e.g.: BY127 1250V, 1A rectifier diode)
  • BZ-series silicon zener diodes (e.g.: BZY88C4V7 4.7V zener diode)

Other common numbering / coding systems (generally manufacturer-driven) include:

  • GD-series germanium diodes (e.g.: GD9) — this is a very old coding system
  • OA-series germanium diodes (e.g.: OA47) — a coding sequence developed by Mullard, a UK company

As well as these common codes, many manufacturers or organisations have their own systems too — for example:

  • HP diode 1901-0044 = JEDEC 1N4148
  • UK military diode CV448 = Mullard type OA81 = GEC type GEX23

Related devices

In optics, an equivalent device for the diode but with laser light would be the Optical isolator, also known as an Optical Diode, that allows light to only pass in one direction. It uses a Faraday rotator as the main component.


Radio demodulation

The first use for the diode was the demodulation of amplitude modulated (AM) radio broadcasts. The history of this discovery is treated in depth in the radio article. In summary, an AM signal consists of alternating positive and negative peaks of a radio carrier wave, whose amplitude or envelope is proportional to the original audio signal. The diode (originally a crystal diode) rectifies the AM radio frequency signal, leaving only the positive peaks of the carrier wave. The audio is then extracted from the rectified carrier wave using a simple filter and fed into an audio amplifier or transducer, which generates sound waves.

Power conversion

Rectifiers are constructed from diodes, where they are used to convert alternating current (AC) electricity into direct current (DC). Automotive alternators are a common example, where the diode, which rectifies the AC into DC, provides better performance than the commutator or earlier, dynamo. Similarly, diodes are also used in Cockcroft–Walton voltage multipliers to convert AC into higher DC voltages.

Over-voltage protection

Diodes are frequently used to conduct damaging high voltages away from sensitive electronic devices. They are usually reverse-biased (non-conducting) under normal circumstances. When the voltage rises above the normal range, the diodes become forward-biased (conducting). For example, diodes are used in (stepper motor and H-bridge) motor controller and relay circuits to de-energize coils rapidly without the damaging voltage spikes that would otherwise occur. (Any diode used in such an application is called a flyback diode). Many integrated circuits also incorporate diodes on the connection pins to prevent external voltages from damaging their sensitive transistors. Specialized diodes are used to protect from over-voltages at higher power (see Diode types above).

Logic gates

Diodes can be combined with other components to construct AND and OR logic gates. This is referred to as diode logic.

Ionizing radiation detectors

In addition to light, mentioned above, semiconductor diodes are sensitive to more energetic radiation. In electronics, cosmic rays and other sources of ionizing radiation cause noise pulses and single and multiple bit errors. This effect is sometimes exploited by particle detectors to detect radiation. A single particle of radiation, with thousands or millions of electron volts of energy, generates many charge carrier pairs, as its energy is deposited in the semiconductor material. If the depletion layer is large enough to catch the whole shower or to stop a heavy particle, a fairly accurate measurement of the particle’s energy can be made, simply by measuring the charge conducted and without the complexity of a magnetic spectrometer or etc. These semiconductor radiation detectors need efficient and uniform charge collection and low leakage current. They are often cooled by liquid nitrogen. For longer range (about a centimetre) particles they need a very large depletion depth and large area. For short range particles, they need any contact or un-depleted semiconductor on at least one surface to be very thin. The back-bias voltages are near breakdown (around a thousand volts per centimetre). Germanium and silicon are common materials. Some of these detectors sense position as well as energy. They have a finite life, especially when detecting heavy particles, because of radiation damage. Silicon and germanium are quite different in their ability to convert gamma rays to electron showers.

Semiconductor detectors for high energy particles are used in large numbers. Because of energy loss fluctuations, accurate measurement of the energy deposited is of less use.

Temperature measurements

A diode can be used as a temperature measuring device, since the forward voltage drop across the diode depends on temperature, as in a Silicon bandgap temperature sensor. From the Shockley ideal diode equation given above, it appears the voltage has a positive temperature coefficient (at a constant current) but depends on doping concentration and operating temperature (Sze 2007). The temperature coefficient can be negative as in typical thermistors or positive for temperature sense diodes down to about 20 kelvins. Typically, silicon diodes have approximately −2 mV/˚C temperature coefficient at room temperature.

Current steering

Diodes will prevent currents in unintended directions. To supply power to an electrical circuit during a power failure, the circuit can draw current from a battery. An Uninterruptible power supply may use diodes in this way to ensure that current is only drawn from the battery when necessary. Similarly, small boats typically have two circuits each with their own battery/batteries: one used for engine starting; one used for domestics. Normally both are charged from a single alternator, and a heavy duty split charge diode is used to prevent the higher charge battery (typically the engine battery) from discharging through the lower charged battery when the alternator is not running.

Diodes are also used in electronic musical keyboards. To reduce the amount of wiring needed in electronic musical keyboards, these instruments often use keyboard matrix circuits. The keyboard controller scans the rows and columns to determine which note the player has pressed. The problem with matrix circuits is that when several notes are pressed at once, the current can flow backwards through the circuit and trigger "phantom keys" that cause "ghost" notes to play. To avoid triggering unwanted notes, most keyboard matrix circuits have diodes soldered with the switch under each key of the musical keyboard. The same principle is also used for the switch matrix in solid state pinball machines.


Diodes are usually referred to as D for diode on PCBs. Sometimes the abbreviation CR for crystal rectifier is used.[27]

Two-element nonlinear devices

Many other two-element nonlinear devices exist but are not usually called "diodes". For example, a neon lamp has two terminals in a glass envelope and has interesting and useful nonlinear properties. Arc-discharge lamps such as fluorescent lamps or mercury vapor lamps also have two terminals and display nonlinear current–voltage characteristics.

See also


  1. ^ "Physical Explanation – General Semiconductors". 2010-05-25. http://www.element-14.com/community/docs/DOC-22519/l/physical-explanation--general-semiconductors. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  2. ^ "The Constituents of Semiconductor Components". 2010-05-25. http://www.element-14.com/community/docs/DOC-22518/l/the-constituents-of-semiconductor-components. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  3. ^ 1928 Nobel Lecture: Owen W. Richardson, "Thermionic phenomena and the laws which govern them," December 12, 1929
  4. ^ Thomas A. Edison "Electrical Meter" U.S. Patent 307,030 Issue date: Oct 21, 1884
  5. ^ "Road to the Transistor". Jmargolin.com. http://www.jmargolin.com/history/trans.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-22. 
  6. ^ Historical lecture on Karl Braun
  7. ^ "Diode". Encyclobeamia.solarbotics.net. http://encyclobeamia.solarbotics.net/articles/diode.html. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  8. ^ U.S. Patent 836,531
  9. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Diode#Reverse_recovery_time
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  13. ^ History o' Diodes
  14. ^ Current regulator diodes
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  16. ^ Dowdey, J. E., and Travis, C. M. An analysis of steady-state nuclear radiation damage of tunnel diodes. IRE Transactions on Nuclear Science 11, 5 (November 1964), 55–59.
  17. ^ Classification of components
  18. ^ "Component Construction". 2010-05-25. http://www.element-14.com/community/docs/DOC-22517/l/component-construction--vishay-optoelectronics. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  19. ^ Component Construction
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  21. ^ Fast Recovery Epitaxial Diodes (FRED) Characteristics - Applications - Examples
  22. ^ S. M. Sze, Modern Semiconductor Device Physics, Wiley Interscience, ISBN 0-471-15237-4
  23. ^ Protecting Low Current Loads in Harsh Electrical Environments
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  26. ^ I.D.E.A. "Transistor Museum Construction Projects Point Contact Germanium Western Electric Vintage Historic Semiconductors Photos Alloy Junction Oral History". Semiconductormuseum.com. http://semiconductormuseum.com/Museum_Index.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-22. 
  27. ^ John Ambrose Fleming (1919). The Principles of Electric Wave Telegraphy and Telephony. London: Longmans, Green. p. 550. http://books.google.com/books?id=xHNBAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA550&dq=%22crystal+rectifier%22+CR&as_brr=1. 

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • diode — diode …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • diode — [ djɔd ] n. f. • 1932; de di et ode; cf. cathode ♦ Techn. Composant électronique redresseur de courant alternatif. ⇒ valve. Électron. Tube électronique à deux électrodes (⇒ anode, cathode). Diode à gaz, pour le redressement de puissance. Diode à… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • diode — 1886, from Gk. di twice + hodos way (see CEDE (Cf. cede)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • diode — ► NOUN Electronics 1) a semiconductor device with two terminals, typically allowing the flow of current in one direction only. 2) a thermionic valve with two electrodes. ORIGIN from DI (Cf. ↑di ) + a shortened form of ELECTRODE(Cf. ↑electrode) …   English terms dictionary

  • diode — [dī′ōd΄] n. [ DI 1 + ODE1] an electronic device with two electrodes, as either an electron tube with an anode and a cathode or a transistor with a pn junction, used mainly as a rectifier since it conducts current in only one direction …   English World dictionary

  • Diode — La diode (du grec di deux, double ; hodos voie, chemin) est un composant électronique. C est un dipôle non linéaire et polarisé (ou non symétrique). Le sens de branchement de la diode a donc une importance sur le fonctionnement du circuit… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Diode — Schaltzeichen einer Diode und Abbildungen üblicher Gehäuse mit Markierung der Kathode. Kennzeichnung der positiven (+) und negativen (−) Seite bei Beschaltung in Durchlassrichtung. Eine Diode ist ein elektrisches Bauelement, das Strom nur in… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Diode — Zweipolröhre; Vakuumdiode; ungesteuerter Gleichrichter; Röhrendiode * * * Di|o|de 〈f. 19; El.〉 früher eine Elektronenröhre, heute ein Halbleiterbauelement mit einer Grenzschicht zw. zwei Halbleitermaterialien zum Gleichrichten od. Richtungsleiten …   Universal-Lexikon

  • diode p-i-n — pin diodas statusas T sritis fizika atitikmenys: angl. intrinsic barrier diode; p i n diode vok. p i n Diode, f rus. p i n диод, m pranc. diode à barrière intrinsèque, f; diode p i n, f …   Fizikos terminų žodynas

  • Diode — diodas statusas T sritis automatika atitikmenys: angl. diode vok. Diode, f rus. диод, m pranc. diode, f …   Automatikos terminų žodynas

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