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Bipolar Transistor Basics:

Transistors are three terminal active devices made from different semiconductor materials that
can act as either an insulator or a conductor by the application of a small signal voltage. The
transistor's ability to change between these two states enables it to have two basic functions:
"switching" (digital electronics) or "amplification" (analogue electronics). The bipolar transistors
have the ability to operate within three different regions:
-

Active Region - the transistor operates as an amplifier and Ic = .Ib


Saturation - the transistor is "fully-ON" operating as a switch and Ic = I(saturation)
Cut-off - the transistor is "fully-OFF" operating as a switch and Ic = 0

There are two basic types of bipolar transistor construction, PNP and NPN. The Bipolar
Transistor basic construction consists of two PN-junctions producing three connecting terminals
with each terminal being given a name to identify it from the other two. These three terminals are
known and labelled as the Emitter ( E ), the Base ( B) and the Collector ( C ) respectively.
Bipolar Transistors are current regulating devices that control the amount of current flowing
through them in proportion to the amount of biasing voltage applied to their base terminal acting
like a current-controlled switch. The principle of operation of the two transistor types PNP and
NPN, is exactly the same the only difference being in their biasing and the polarity of the power
supply
for
each
type.

Bipolar Transistor Configurations:


There are basically three possible ways to connect it within an electronic circuit with one
terminal being common to both the input and output. Each method of connection responding
differently to its input signal within a circuit as the static characteristics of the transistor vary
with each circuit arrangement.
-

Common Base Configuration - has Voltage Gain but no Current Gain.


Common Emitter Configuration - has both Current and Voltage Gain.
Common Collector Configuration - has Current Gain but no Voltage Gain.

The Common Base (CB) Configuration:


As its name suggests, in the Common Base or grounded base configuration, the Base connection
is common to both the input signal AND the output signal with the input signal being applied
between the base and the emitter terminals. The corresponding output signal is taken from
between the base and the collector terminals as shown with the base terminal grounded or
connected to a fixed reference voltage point. The input current flowing into the emitter is quite

large as its the sum of both the base current and collector current respectively therefore, the
collector current output is less than the emitter current input resulting in a current gain for this
type of circuit of "1" (unity) or less, in other words the common base configuration "attenuates"
the
input
signal.

This type of amplifier configuration is a non-inverting voltage amplifier circuit, in that the signal
voltages Vin and Vout are in-phase. This type of transistor arrangement is not very common due to
its unusually high voltage gain characteristics. Its output characteristics represent that of a
forward biased diode while the input characteristics represent that of an illuminated photo-diode.
Also this type of bipolar transistor configuration has a high ratio of output to input resistance or
more importantly load resistance RL to input resistance Rin giving it a value of Resistance Gain.
Then the voltage gain ( Av ) for a common base configuration is therefore given as:

Where: Ic/Ie is the current gain, alpha ( ) and RL/Rin is the resistance gain. The common base
circuit is generally only used in single stage amplifier circuits such as microphone pre-amplifier
or radio frequency ( Rf ) amplifiers due to its very good high frequency response.
The Common Emitter (CE) Configuration
In the Common Emitter or grounded emitter configuration, the input signal is applied between
the base, while the output is taken from between the collector and the emitter as shown. This type
of configuration is the most commonly used circuit for transistor based amplifiers and which
represents the "normal" method of bipolar transistor connection. The common emitter amplifier
configuration produces the highest current and power gain of all the three bipolar transistor
configurations. This is mainly because the input impedance is LOW as it is connected to a
forward-biased PN-junction, while the output impedance is HIGH as it is taken from a reversebiased
PN-junction.

In this type of configuration, the current flowing out of the transistor must be equal to the
currents flowing into the transistor as the emitter current is given as Ie = Ic + Ib. Also, as the load
resistance ( RL ) is connected in series with the collector, the current gain of the common emitter
transistor configuration is quite large as it is the ratio of Ic/Ib and is given the Greek symbol of
Beta, ( ). As the emitter current for a common emitter configuration is defined as Ie = Ic + Ib,
the ratio of Ic/Ie is called Alpha, given the Greek symbol of . Note: that the value of Alpha will
always be less than unity.
Since the electrical relationship between these three currents, Ib, Ic and Ie is determined by the
physical construction of the transistor itself, any small change in the base current ( Ib ), will
result in a much larger change in the collector current ( Ic ). Then, small changes in current
following in the base will thus control the current in the emitter-collector circuit. Typically, Beta
has a value between 20 and 200 for most general purpose transistors. By combining the
expressions for both a, and Beta, the mathematical relationship between these parameters and
therefore
the
current
gain
of
the
transistor
can
be
given
as:

Where: "Ic" is the current flowing into the collector terminal, "Ib" is the current flowing into the
base terminal and "Ie" is the current flowing out of the emitter terminal. Then to summarise, this
type of bipolar transistor configuration has a greater input impedance, current and power gain
than that of the common base configuration but its voltage gain is much lower. The common
emitter configuration is an inverting amplifier circuit. This means that the resulting output signal
is 180o "out-of-phase" with the input voltage signal.
The Common Collector (CC) Configuration
In the Common Collector or grounded collector configuration, the collector is now common
through the supply. The input signal is connected directly to the base, while the output is taken
from the emitter load as shown. This type of configuration is commonly known as a Voltage
Follower or Emitter Follower circuit. The emitter follower configuration is very useful for
impedance matching applications because of the very high input impedance, in the region of
hundreds of thousands of Ohms while having relatively low output impedance.

The common emitter configuration has a current gain approximately equal to the value of the
transistor itself. In the common collector configuration the load resistance is situated in series
with the emitter so its current is equal to that of the emitter current. As the emitter current is the
combination of the collector AND the base current combined, the load resistance in this type of
transistor configuration also has both the collector current and the input current of the base
flowing through it. Then the current gain of the circuit is given as:

This type of bipolar transistor configuration is a non-inverting circuit in that the signal voltages
of Vin andVout are "in-phase". It has a voltage gain that is always less than "1" (unity). The load
resistance of the common collector transistor receives both the base and collector currents giving
a large current gain (as with the common emitter configuration) therefore, providing good
current
amplification
with
very
little
voltage
gain.

The NPN Transistor


In the previous tutorial we saw that the standard Bipolar Transistor or BJT, comes in two basic
forms. An NPN (Negative-Positive-Negative) type and a PNP (Positive-Negative-Positive) type,
with the most commonly used transistor type being the NPN Transistor. We also learnt that the
junctions of the bipolar transistor can be biased in one of three different ways Common Base,

Common

Emitter

and

Common

Collector.

The construction and terminal voltages for an NPN transistor are shown above. The voltage
between the Base and Emitter ( VBE ), is positive at the Base and negative at the Emitter because
for an NPN transistor, the Base terminal is always positive with respect to the Emitter. Also the
Collector supply voltage is positive with respect to the Emitter ( VCE ). So for an NPN transistor
to conduct the Collector is always more positive with respect to both the Base and the Emitter.
Then the voltage sources are connected to an NPN transistor as shown. The Collector is
connected to the supply voltage VCC via the load resistor, RL which also acts to limit the
maximum current flowing through the device. The Base supply voltage VB is connected to the
Base resistor RB, which again is used to limit the maximum Base current. We know that the
transistor is a "current"operated device (Beta model) and that a large current ( Ic ) flows freely
through the device between the collector and the emitter terminals when the transistor is
switched "fully-ON". However, this only happens when a small biasing current ( Ib ) is flowing
into the base terminal of the transistor at the same time thus allowing the Base to act as a sort of
current control input.
The transistor current in an NPN transistor is the ratio of these two currents ( Ic/Ib ), called the
DC Current Gain of the device and is given the symbol of hfe or nowadays Beta, ( ). The value
of can be large up to 200 for standard transistors, and it is this large ratio between Ic and Ib that
makes the NPN transistor a useful amplifying device when used in its active region as Ib
provides the input and Icprovides the output. Note that Beta has no units as it is a ratio. Also, the
current gain of the transistor from the Collector terminal to the Emitter terminal, Ic/Ie, is called
Alpha, ( ), and is a function of the transistor itself (electrons diffusing across the junction). As
the emitter current Ie is the product of a very small base current plus a very large collector
current, the value of alpha , is very close to unity, and for a typical low-power signal transistor

this

value

ranges

from

about

0.950

to

0.999

The values of Beta vary from about 20 for high current power transistors to well over 1000 for
high frequency low power type bipolar transistors. The value of Beta for most standard NPN
transistors can be found in the manufactures datasheets but generally range between 50 - 200.
The equation above for Beta can also be re-arranged to make Ic as the subject, and with a zero
base current ( Ib = 0 ) the resultant collector current Ic will also be zero, ( x 0 ). Also when the
base current is high the corresponding collector current will also be high resulting in the base
current controlling the collector current. One of the most important properties of the Bipolar
Junction Transistor is that a small base current can control a much larger collector current.
Consider the following example.
The Transistor as a Switch
When used as an AC signal amplifier, the transistors Base biasing voltage is applied in such a
way that it always operates within its "active" region, that is the linear part of the output
characteristics curves are used. However, both the NPN & PNP type bipolar transistors can be
made to operate as "ON/OFF" type solid state switches by biasing the transistors base differently
to that of a signal amplifier. Solid state switches are one of the main applications for the use of
transistors, and transistor switches can be used for controlling high power devices such as
motors, solenoids or lamps, but they can also used in digital electronics and logic gate circuits. If
the circuit uses the Bipolar Transistor as a Switch, then the biasing of the transistor, either NPN
or PNP is arranged to operate the transistor at both sides of the " I-V " characteristics curves we
have seen previously. The areas of operation for a transistor switch are known as the Saturation
Region and the Cut-off Region. This means then that we can ignore the operating Q-point

biasing and voltage divider circuitry required for amplification, and use the transistor as a switch
by driving it back and forth between its "fully-OFF" (cut-off) and "fully-ON" (saturation) regions
as
shown
below.

Are
a at the bottom of the curves represents the "Cut-off" region while the blue area to the left
represents the "Saturation" region of the transistor. Both these transistor regions are defined as:
1. Cut-off Region
Here the operating conditions of the transistor are zero input base current ( IB ), zero output
collector current IC and maximum collector voltage VCE which results in a large depletion layer
and no current flowing through the device. Therefore the transistor is switched "Fully- OFF".

Cut-off Characteristics
Then we can define the "cut-off region" or "OFF mode" when using a bipolar transistor as a
switch as being, both junctions reverse biased, VB < 0.7v and IC = 0. For a PNP transistor, the
Emitter potential must be negative with respect to the Base.
2. Saturation Region
Here the transistor will be biased so that the maximum amount of base current is applied,
resulting in maximum collector current resulting in the minimum collector emitter voltage drop

which results in the depletion layer being as small as possible and maximum current flowing
through the transistor. Therefore the transistor is switched "Fully-ON".

Then we can define the "saturation region" or "ON mode" when using a bipolar transistor as a
switch as being, both junctions forward biased, VB > 0.7v and IC = Maximum. For a PNP
transistor, the Emitter potential must be positive with respect to the Base. Then the transistor
operates as a "single-pole single-throw" (SPST) solid state switch. With a zero signal applied to
the Base of the transistor it turns "OFF" acting like an open switch and zero collector current
flows. With a positive signal applied to the Base of the transistor it turns "ON" acting like a
closed switch and maximum circuit current flows through the device.
An example of an NPN Transistor as a switch being used to operate a relay is given below. With
inductive loads such as relays or solenoids a flywheel diode is placed across the load to dissipate
the back EMF generated by the inductive load when the transistor switches "OFF" and so protect
the transistor from damage. If the load is of a very high current or voltage nature, such as motors,
heaters etc, then the load current can be controlled via a suitable relay as shown.
Transistor as a Switch Summary
-

Transistor switches can be used to switch and control lamps, relays or even motors.
When using the bipolar transistor as a switch they must be either fully-OFF or fully-ON.
Transistors that are fully "ON" are said to be in their Saturation region.
Transistors that are fully "OFF" are said to be in their Cut-off region.
When using the transistor as a switch, a small Base current controls a much larger
Collector load current.
When using transistors to switch inductive loads such as relays and solenoids, a
"Flywheel Diode" is used.
When large currents or voltages need to be controlled, Darlington Transistors can be
used.

What is the need for biasing?


In order to produce distortion free output in amplifier circuits, the supply voltages and
resistances establish a set of dc voltage VCEQ and ICQ to operate the transistor in the active

region. These voltages and currents are called quiescent values which determine the operating
point or Q-point for the transistor. The process of giving proper supply voltages and resistances
for obtaining the desired Q-Point is called Biasing. The circuits used for getting the desired and
proper operating point are known as biasing circuits. To establish the operating point in the
active region biasing is required for transistors to be used as an amplifier. For analog circuit
operation, the Q-point is placed so the transistor stays in active mode (does not shift to operation
in the saturation region or cut-off region) when input is applied. For digital operation, the Q point
is placed so the transistor does the contrary - switches from "on" to "off" state. Often, Q point is
established near the center of active region of transistor characteristic to allow similar signal
swings in positive and negative directions. Q-point should be stable. In particular, it should be
insensitive to variations in transistor parameters (for example, should not shift if transistor is
replaced by another of the same type), variations in temperature, variations in power supply
voltage and so forth. The circuit must be practical: easily implemented and cost-effective.
TYPES OF BIAS
1) Base-Current Bias (Fixed Bias):
The first biasing method, called BASE CURRENT BIAS or sometimes FIXED BIAS. It
consisted basically of a resistor (RB) connected between the collector supply voltage and the
base. Unfortunately, this simple arrangement is quite thermally unstable. If the temperature of the
transistor rises for any reason (due to a rise in ambient temperature or due to current flow
through it), collector current will increase. This increase in current also causes the dc operating
point, sometimes called the quiescent or static point, to move away from its desired position
(level). This reaction to temperature is undesirable because it affects amplifier gain (the number
of
times
of
amplification)
and
could
result
in
distortion.

Merits:
It is simple to shift the operating point anywhere in the active region by merely changing the
base resistor (RB). A very small number of components are required.
Demerits:

The collector current does not remain constant with variation in temperature or power supply
voltage. Therefore the operating point is unstable. Changes in Vbe will change IB and thus cause
RB to change. This in turn will alter the gain of the stage.
When the transistor is replaced with another one, considerable change in the value of can be
expected. Due to this change the operating point will shift. For small-signal transistors (e.g., not
power transistors) with relatively high values of (i.e. between 100 and 200), this configuration
will be prone to thermal runaway. In particular, the stability factor, which is a measure of the
change in collector current with changes in reverse saturation current, is approximately +1. To
ensure absolute stability of the amplifier, a stability factor of less than 25 is preferred, and so
small-signal transistors have large stability factors.
Self-Bias or Collector-to-base bias:
A better method of biasing is obtained by inserting the bias resistor directly between the base and
collector. By tying the collector to the base in this manner, feedback voltage can be fed from the
collector to the base to develop forward bias. This arrangement is called SELF-BIAS. Now, if an
increase of temperature causes an increase in collector current, the collector voltage (VC) will
fall because of the increase of voltage produced across the load resistor (RL). This drop in VC
will be fed back to the base and will result in a decrease in the base current. The decrease in base
current will oppose the original increase in collector current and tend to stabilize it. The exact
opposite
effect
is
produced
when
the
collector
current
decreases.

Self-bias has two small drawbacks:


(1) It is only partially effective and, therefore, is only used where moderate changes in ambient
temperature are expected; (2) it reduces amplification since the signal on the collector also
affects the base voltage. This is because the collector and base signals for this particular
amplifier configuration are 180 degrees out of phase (opposite in polarity) and the part of the
collector signal that is fed back to the base cancels some of the input signal. This process of
returning a part of the output back to its input is known as DEGENERATION or NEGATIVE
FEEDBACK. Sometimes degeneration is desired to prevent amplitude distortion (an output
signal that fails to follow the input exactly) and self-bias may be used for this purpose.

TRANSISTOR AS AN AMPLIFIER
Amplifiers are used extensively in electronic circuits to make an electronic signal bigger without
affecting it in any other way. Generally we think of Amplifiers as audio amplifiers in the radios,
CD players and stereo's we use around the home. In this amplifier tutorial section we looked at
the amplifier which is based on a single bipolar transistor as shown below, but there are several
different
kinds
of
transistor
amplifier
circuits
that
we
could
use.

Small Signal Amplifiers


-

Small Signal Amplifiers are also known as Voltage Amplifiers.


Voltage Amplifiers have 3 main properties, Input Resistance, Output Resistance and
Gain.
The Gain of a small signal amplifier is the amount by which the amplifier "Amplifies" the
input signal.
Gain is a ratio of input divided by output, therefore it has no units but is given the symbol
(A) with the most common types being, Voltage Gain (Av), Current Gain (Ai) and Power
Gain (Ap)
The power Gain of the amplifier can also be expressed in Decibels or simply dB.
In order to amplify all of the input signal distortion free in a Class A type amplifier, DC
Base

Biasing is required.
-

DC Bias sets the Q-point of the amplifier half way along the load line.
This DC Base biasing means that the amplifier consumes power even if there is no input
signal present.
The transistor amplifier is non-linear and an incorrect bias setting will produce large
amounts of distortion to the output waveform.
Too large an input signal will produce large amounts of distortion due to clipping, which
is also a form of amplitude distortion.
Incorrect positioning of the Q-point on the load line will produce either Saturation
Clipping orCut-off Clipping.
The Common Emitter Amplifier configuration is the most common form of all the
general purpose voltage amplifier circuit using a Bipolar Junction Transistor.

The Common Source Amplifier configuration is the most common form of all the general
purpose voltage amplifier circuit using a Junction Field Effect Transistor.

Large Signal Amplifiers


Large Signal Amplifiers are also known as Power Amplifiers. Power Amplifiers can be subdivided into different Classes, for example Class A Amplifiers where the output device conducts
for all of the input cycle, Class B Amplifiers, where the output device conducts for only 50% of
the input cycle and Class AB Amplifiers, where the output device conducts for more than 50%
but less than 100% of the input cycle.
An ideal Power Amplifier would deliver 100% of the available DC power to the load.
-

Class A amplifiers are the most common form of power amplifier but only have an
efficiency rating of less than 40%.
Class B amplifiers are more efficient than Class A amplifiers at around 70% but produce
high amounts of distortion.
Class B amplifiers consume very little power when there is no input signal present.
By using the "Push-pull" output stage configuration, distortion can be greatly reduced.
However, simple push-pull Class B Power amplifiers can produce high levels of
Crossover Distortion due to their cut-off point biasing.
Pre-biasing resistors or diodes will help eliminate this crossover distortion.
Class B Power Amplifiers can be made using Transformers or Complementary
Transistors in its output stage.

How does a small change in base current result in a large change in collector current in a BJT??
Think of the base-emitter junction as a regular diode junction. In order for charge to flow, the
junction must be forward biased with a voltage drop of about 0.7V (for silicon) across it. Now
what does this actually mean? Well for a start it means current can flow from emitter to base.
Furthermore it means that electrons in the emitter will flow over to the base-emitter junction and
holes from the base will flow to the base-emitter junction. Because of the nature of holes and
electrons, they combine at the junction. But here is where the magic is, the base has been doped
in such a way that only few holes are available (about 1 hole for every 100 or so electrons). The
more electons you put into the base, the less holes will be available for the electrons from the
emitter (becuase most of the holes-electrons combinations are taken up by electrons entering the
base), hence more emitter electrons will enter the collector region and there will be a stronger
flow of charge. So what happens to 99% of the electrons? Well as you probably already know,
the base layer is very thin. There also exist a depletion region between the base and collector
regions. It is this depletion region that the electrons must cross to enter the collector region.
Electrons then come under the influence of a strong electric field (which is between the base and
collector region) that "sucks" the electrons. The electrons then leave the transistor through the
collector terminal as current. In other words it all started with a forward biased diode junction

(base-emitter junction) which provided the necessary holes and electrons, the electrons then
combined with holes. The remaining electrons were then collected by the collector and emitted
as current. The collector collects the electrons emitted by the emitter. Its actually small changes
in the voltage applied across the baseemitter terminals which causes the current that flows from
emitter to collector to change significantly. Its this applied voltage that causes the depletion
region between the base and emitter to get thinner and charges start to cross it. A change in
voltage causes a change in current, this is roughly like a resistor. But the voltage that controls the
current flow in on an entire different region (base-emitter), yet its effects are seen on the
collector side of the transistor. So its effects are transferred. Hence the name transistor.
THERMAL RUNAWAY
As a transistor heats, its junction temperature increases. This increases the collector current,
which forces the junction temperature to increase further, producing more collector current, etc.,
until the transistor is destroyed. Or Leakage current increases significantly in bipolar transistors
(especially germanium-based bipolar transistors) as they increase in temperature. Depending on
the design of the circuit, this increase in leakage current can increase the current flowing through
a transistor and thus the power dissipation, causing a further increase in Collector-to-Emitter
leakage current. This is frequently seen in a pushpull stage of a class AB amplifier. If the pullup and pull-down transistors are biased to have minimal crossover distortion at room
temperature, and the biasing is not temperature-compensated, then as the temperature rises both
transistors will be increasingly biased on, causing current and power to further increase, and
eventually destroying one or both devices.One rule of thumb to avoid thermal runaway is to keep
the operating point of a BJT so that Vce 1/2Vcc
Another practice is to mount a thermal feedback sensing transistor or other device on the heat
sink, to control the crossover bias voltage. As the output transistors heat up, so does the thermal
feedback transistor. This in turn causes the thermal feedback transistor to turn on at a slightly
lower voltage, reducing the crossover bias voltage, and so reducing the heat dissipated by the
output transistors.If multiple BJT transistors are connected in parallel (which is typical in high
current applications), a current hogging problem can occur. Special measures must be taken to
control this characteristic vulnerability of BJTs.
As the temperature of a bipolar transistor rises, it's voltage drop tends to go down, in other
words, it becomes even more conductive. It thus allows more current to pass and tends to want to
blow itself up. The maximum average power in which a transistor can dissipate depends upon the
construction of transistor and lie in the range of few milliwatts and 200W. The maximum power
is limited by the temperature that the collector Base junction can withstand. The maximum
power dissipation is usually specified for the transistor enclosure is 25 degree celsius. The
junction temperature may increase either because of rise in ambient temperature or because of
self heating. The problem of self heating arises due to dissipation of power at the collector
junction. The leakage current Icbo is extremely temperature dependent and increases with the

rise in temperature of collector-base junction. With the increase in collector current Ic, collector
power dissipation increases which raises the junction temperature that leads to further increase in
collector current Ic. The process is cumulative and may lead to the eventual destruction of
transistor. This phenomenon is known as THERMAL RUNAWAY of transistor. In practice the
Thermal Runaway can be prevented by a well designed circuit called as STABILIZATION
Circuitry.