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KE 36103
Semiconductor Photo-transistor
Ramanan A/L Thangasalvam (BK13160570)
Amirul Bin Azam (BK13110030)
Lim Ying Kiat (BK13110183)
Gordon Ngu Weng Jie (BK13110127)
Abdul Fatta Bin Sahrul Izam (BK13160521)
Duane G. Bounar (BK10160425)
Dr. Ahmad Mukifza Harun

The invention of the phototransistor was announced in Murray Hill, New

Jersey. This was a transistor operated by light rather than electric current which
was invented by Dr. John Northrup Shive of the Bell Telephone Laboratories
at Murray Hill, New Jersey. A phototransistor is actually an alternative photojunction device to the photodiode in other words a photodiode with amplification
or avalanche photodiode. A phototransistor consists of two-junctions, operates
with a much higher reverse bias than a photodiode, has internal gain, is sensitive
to light and is a BJT that is enclosed in a transparent case so that light can reach
the base-collector junction.
There are four basic differences between a phototransistor and a photodiode.
Four main differences are namely the junction difference, frequency response,
gain and temperature response. The definition of a phototransistor is that it is an
electronic switching and current amplification component which relies on
exposure to light to operate. Often the base is left disconnected as the light is
used to enable the current flow through the phototransistor. The phototransistor











The first phototransistors used single semiconductor materials such

as germanium and silicone in their construction. Modern components use several
differing material junctions including gallium and arsenide for higher efficiency
levels. The physical structure of the transistor is also optimized to allow for
maximum light exposure.

A photo transistor is nothing but an ordinary bi-polar transistor in which the
base region is exposed to the illumination and is depicted by the image below.

The phototransistor is available in both the P-N-P and N-P-N types. The circuit
symbol has the convention arrow and directions on the emitter connection. It
points inwards on a PNP phototransistor circuit symbol and outwards on an NPN
phototransistor symbol.

Common emitter configuration is generally used. The base terminal is made


Comparison with BJT



Bipolar Junction
Collector base junction not
sensitive to light.

very sensitive to light.

Light sensitivity

depends upon intensity of
light on base.

Working Condition

depends upon the input
current or its input is base

Its symbol is with or

without the base terminal.

Base terminal in symbol

Its symbol is always with

base terminal.

Its collector base junction

surface area comparatively

Collector-base surface

Its collector base surface

area comparatively smaller.

There is a lens to focus the



There is no lens.

Principle & Working Principle of Phototransistor

A simple us of a phototransistor is as a AND gate. It works in such a way that
a Vcc is provided for biasing and light is shined upon it as an input. The AND gate
configuration of the phototransistor is depicted by the following figure:

The current-voltage characteristics of the phototransistor are similar to

conventional NPN BJTs, with the major exception that incident light provides the
base drive current (IB). Typical V-I characteristics of phototransistor is shown with
base current (IB) and illumination intensity as parameters in the figure below. If
the radiation is concentrated on the region near the collector junction with the
base terminal open, additional minority carriers are photo generated and these
contribute to the reverse saturation current.

The common emitter phototransistor circuit configuration is possibly the most

widely used, like its more conventional straight transistor circuit. The collector is
taken to the supply voltage via a collector load resistor, and the output is taken
from the collector connection on the phototransistor. The circuit generates an
output that moves from a high voltage state to a low voltage state when light is
detected. The circuit actually acts as an amplifier. The current generated by the
light affects the base region. This is amplified by the current gain of the
transistor in the normal way.

The common collector, or emitter follower phototransistor circuit

configuration has effectively the same topology as the normal common emitter
transistor circuit - the emitter is taken to ground via a load resistor, and the
output for the circuit being taken from the emitter connection of the device. The
circuit generates an output that moves from the low state to a high state when
light is detected.

A phototransistors works in a similar way to photo-resistors. A phototransistor

is able to produce both current and voltage but unlike a phototransistor a photo-

resistor can only produce current. LDR or Light-Dependent-Resistor is a resistor

whose resistance decreases with increasing incident light intensity. A photo
resistor is made of a high resistance semiconductor. An LDR is depicted as below:

The output of a phototransistor is dependent upon the wavelength of incident

light. Phototransistors respond to light over a broad range of wavelengths from
the near UV, through the visible region, and into the near IR part of the
spectrum. The spectral response of Silica (Si) phototransistor is shown in figure
below. The peak spectral response is in the near IR at approximately 840nm.
Phototransistors respond to fluorescent or incandescent light sources but display
better optical coupling efficiencies when used with IR LEDs.

Advantages and Disadvantages

1) Advantages:
- Phototransistors produce a higher current than photodiodes.
- Phototransistors produce a voltage, that photo-resistors cannot do so.
- Phototransistors are very fast and are capable of providing nearly
instantaneous output.
- Phototransistors are relatively inexpensive, simple, and small enough to fit
several of
them onto a single integrated computer chip.
2) Disadvantages:
- Phototransistors that are made of silicon are not capable of handling
voltages over
1,000 Volts.
- Phototransistors also do not allow electrons to move as freely as other
devices do, such
as electron tubes.
- Phototransistors are also more vulnerable to surges and spikes of electricity
as well as
electromagnetic energy.

There are various applications for phototransistors and some of these areas of
application for the phototransistor include Punch-card readers, Computer logic
circuitry, Lighting control in highways, Level indication, Relays, Counting systems
and IR detectors.
An example of a phototransistor application is a photo-Darlington. It consists of a

phototransistor connected in a Darlington arrangement with a conventional BJT.

It has a higher current gain, higher collector current, greater light sensitivity
Another example of a phototransistor application is with an LASCR which is a four
layer semiconductor device that conducts current in one direction when
activated by a sufficient amount of light and continues to conduct untill light falls
below a specified value.

1) "The phototransistor". Bell Laboratories RECORD. May 1950.
2) James F. Cox (26 June 2001). Fundamentals of linear electronics: integrated
pp. 91. ISBN 978-0-7668-3018-9.
Retrieved 20 August 2011.
3) Held. G, Introduction to Light Emitting Diode Technology and Applications,
CRC Press, (Worldwide, 2008). Ch. 5 p. 116. ISBN 1-4200-7662-0
4) Filip Tavernier, Michiel Steyaert High-Speed Optical Receivers with Integrated
Photodiode in Nanoscale CMOS Springer, 2011 ISBN 1-4419-9924-8, Chapter
3 From Light to Electric Current - The Photodiode
5) Graham Brooker, Introduction to Sensors for Ranging and Imaging, ScitTech

Publishing, 2009 ISBN 9781891121746 page 87