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Special Types of Diodes

A. Schottky Barrier Diodes

The Schottky circuit symbol used in many circuit schematic diagrams may be that of an
ordinary diode symbol. However it is often necessary to use a specific Schottky diode
symbol to signify that a Schottky diode rather than another one must be used because it is
essential to the operation of the circuit. Accordingly a specific Schottky diode symbol has
been accepted for use. The circuit symbol is shown below:

Schottky diode symbol

It can be seen from the circuit symbol that it is based on the normal diode one, but with
additional elements to the bar across the triangle shape.
The Schottky barrier diode can be manufactured in a variety of forms. The most simple is
the point contact diode where a metal wire is pressed against a clean semiconductor
surface. This was how the early Cat's Whisker detectors were made, and they were found
to be very unreliable, requiring frequent repositioning of the wire to ensure satisfactory
operation. In fact the diode that is formed may either be a Schottky barrier diode or a
standard PN junction dependent upon the way in which the wire and semiconductor meet
and the resulting forming process.

Point contact Schottky diode structure

Although some diodes still use this very simple format, any diode requiring a long term
reliability needs to be fabricated in a more reliable way.
Although point contact diodes were manufactured many years later, these diodes were
also unreliable and they were subsequently replaced by a fabrication technique in which
metal was vacuum deposited.

Deposited metal Schottky barrier diode structure

This format for a Schottky diode is very basic and is more diagrammatic than actually
practical. However it does show the basic metal-on-semiconductor format that is key to its
One of the problems with the simple deposited metal diode is that breakdown effects are
noticed around the edge of the metallised area. This arises from the high electric fields
that are present around the edge of the plate. Leakage effects are also noticed.
To overcome these problems a guard ring of P+ semiconductor fabricated using a diffusion
process is used along with an oxide layer around the edge. In some instances metallic
silicides may be used in place of the metal.
The guard ring in this form of Schottky diode structure operates by driving this region into
avalanche breakdown before the Schottky junction is damaged by large levels of reverse
current flow during transient events.

Schottky diode rectifier structure showing with guard ring

This form of Schottky diode structure is used particularly in rectifier diodes where the
voltages may be high and breakdown is more of a problem.
The Schottky diode is what is called a majority carrier device. This gives it tremendous
advantages in terms of speed because it does not rely on holes or electrons recombining
when they enter the opposite type of region as in the case of a conventional diode. By
making the devices small the normal RC type time constants can be reduced, making these
diodes an order of magnitude faster than the conventional PN diodes. This factor is the
prime reason why they are so popular in radio frequency applications.
The diode also has a much higher current density than an ordinary PN junction. This means
that forward voltage drops are lower making the diode ideal for use in power rectification

Its main drawback is found in the level of its reverse current which is relatively high. For
many uses this may not be a problem, but it is a factor which is worth watching when
using it in more exacting applications.
The overall I-V characteristic is shown below. It can be seen that the Schottky diode has
the typical forward semiconductor diode characteristic, but with a much lower turn on
voltage. At high current levels it levels off and is limited by the series resistance or the
maximum level of current injection. In the reverse direction breakdown occurs above a
certain level. The mechanism is similar to the impact ionisation breakdown in a PN

Schottky diode IV characteristic

The Schottky diode is used in many applications as a result of its characteristics that differ
appreciable from several aspects of the more widely used standard PN junction diode.



Forward current

Majority carrier transport.

Due to diffusion currents, i.e.

minority carrier transport.

Reverse current

Results from majority carriers

that overcome the barrier. This
is less temperature dependent
than for standard PN junction.

Results from the minority

carriers diffusing through the
depletion layer. It has a strong
temperature dependence.

Turn on voltage

Small - around 0.2 V.

Comparatively large - around

0.7 V.

Switching speed

Fast - as a result of the use of

majority carriers because no
recombination is required.

Limited by the recombination

time of the injected minority

B. Varactors
Varactor diodes or varicap diodes are semiconductor devices that are widely used in the
electronics industry and are used in many applications where a voltage controlled variable
capacitance is required. Although the terms varactor diode and varicap diode can be used
interchangeably, the more common term these days is the varactor diode.
Although ordinary PN junction diodes exhibit the variable capacitance effect and these
diodes can be used for this applications, special diodes optimised to give the required
changes in capacitance. Varactor diodes or varicap diodes normally enable much higher
ranges of capacitance change to be gained as a result of the way in which they are

manufactured. There are a variety of types of varactor diode ranging from relatively
standard varieties to those that are described as abrupt or hyperabrupt varactor diodes.
The varactor diode or varicap diode consists of a standard PN junction, although it is
obviously optimised for its function as a variable capacitor. In fact ordinary PN junction
diodes can be used as varactor diodes, even if their performance is not to the same
standard as specially manufactured varactors.
The basis of operation of the varactor diode is quite simple. The diode is operated under
reverse bias conditions and this gives rise to three regions. At either end of the diode are
the P and N regions where current can be conducted. However around the junction is the
depletion region where no current carriers are available. As a result, current can be
carried in the P and N regions, but the depletion region is an insulator.
This is exactly the same construction as a capacitor. It has conductive plates separated by
an insulating dielectric.
The capacitance of a capacitor is dependent on a number of factors including the plate
area, the dielectric constant of the insulator between the plates and the distance
between the two plates. In the case of the varactor diode, it is possible to increase and
decrease the width of the depletion region by changing the level of the reverse bias. This
has the effect of changing the distance between the plates of the capacitor.
As the primary function of a varactor diode is as a variable capacitor, its circuit symbol
represents this. Sometimes they may be shown as ordinary diodes, whereas more usually
the varactor diode circuit symbol shows the bar as a capacitor, i.e. two lines.

Varactor diode circuit symbol

Varactor diodes are always operated under reverse bias conditions, and in this way there is
no conduction. They are effectively voltage controlled capacitors, and indeed they are
sometimes called varicap diodes, although the term varactor is more widely used these
Varactor diodes, or as they are sometimes called, varicap diodes are a particularly useful
form of semiconductor diode. Finding uses in many applications where electronically
controlled tuning of resonant circuits is required, for items such as oscillators and filters,
varactor diodes are an essential component within the portfolio of the electronics design
engineer. However to be able to use varactor diodes to their best advantage it is necessary
to understand features of varactor diodes including the capacitance ratio, Q, gamma,
reverse voltage and the like. If used correctly, varactor diodes provide very reliable
service particularly as they are a solid state device and have no mechanical or moving
elements as in their mechanical variable capacitor counterparts.
The actual capacitance range which is obtained depends upon a number of factors. One is
the area of the junction. Another is the width of the depletion region for a given voltage.
It is found that the thickness of the depletion region in the varactor diode is proportional
to the square root of the reverse voltage across it. In addition to this, the capacitance of
the varactor is inversely proportional to the depletion region thickness. From this it can be
seen that the capacitance of the varactor diode is inversely proportional to the square
root of the voltage across it.

Diodes typically operate with reverse bias ranging from around a couple of volts up to 20
volts and higher. Some may even operate up to as much as 60 volts, although at the top
end of the range comparatively little change in capacitance is seen.
One of the key parameters for a varactor diode is the capacitance ratio. This is commonly
expressed in the form Cx / Cy where x and y are two voltages towards the ends of the
range over which the capacitance change can be measured.
For a change between 2 and 20 volts an abrupt diode may exhibit a capacitance change
ratio of 2.5 to 3, whereas a hyperabrupt diode may be twice this, e.g. 6.
However it is still necessary to consult the curves for the particular diode to ensure that it
will give the required capacitance change over the voltages that will be applied. It is
worth remembering that there will be a spread in capacitance values that are obtainable,
and this must be included in any calculations for the final circuit.

C. Photodiodes
This light detector is a current-to-voltage converter. The FET input op-ampprevents the
loading of the photodiode and the voltage at the output is proportional to the current in
the photodiode. So long as the photodiode response to the light is linear, the output
voltage is proportional to the light falling on the photodiode.

A photodiode consists of an active p-n junction which is operated in reverse bias. When
light falls on the junction, a reverse current flows which is proportional to
the illuminance. The linear response to light makes it an element in
useful photodetectors for some applications. It is also used as the active element in lightactivated switches.

Component information and device characteristic

The mechanism of the photodiode is like that of a (miniaturized) solar cell. Their response
time is fast, on the order of nanoseconds. As light detectors, they are reverse biased the reverse current is linearly proportional to the illuminance striking the diode. They are
not as sensitive as a phototransistor, but their linearity can make them useful in
simple light meters.

The reverse current through a photodiode varies linearly with illuminanceonce you are
significantly above the dark current region.
D. Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)
LEDs (thats ell-ee-dees) are a particular type of diode that convert electrical energy
into light. In fact, LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. (It does what it says on the tin!)
And this is reflected in the similarity between the diode and LED schematic symbols:

In short, LEDs are like tiny lightbulbs. However, LEDs require a lot less power to light up by
comparison. Theyre also more energy efficient, so they dont tend to get hot like
conventional lightbulbs do (unless youre really pumping power into them). This makes
them ideal for mobile devices and other low-power applications.
1) Polarity Matters
In electronics, polarity indicates whether a circuit component is symmetric or not. LEDs,
being diodes, will only allow current to flow in one direction. And when theres no
current-flow, theres no light. Luckily, this also means that you cant break an LED by
plugging it in backwards. Rather, it just wont work.

The positive side of the LED is called the anode and is marked by having a longer
lead, or leg. The other, negative side of the LED is called the cathode. Current flows
from the anode to the cathode and never the opposite direction. A reversed LED can keep
an entire circuit from operating properly by blocking current flow. So dont freak out if
adding an LED breaks your circuit. Try flipping it around.
2) Moar Current Equals Moar Light
The brightness of an LED is directly dependent on how much current it draws. That means
two things. The first being that super bright LEDs drain batteries more quickly, because
the extra brightness comes from the extra power being used. The second is that you can
control the brightness of an LED by controlling the amount of current through it. But,
setting the mood isnt the only reason to cut back your current.
3) There is Such a Thing as Too Much Power
If you connect an LED directly to a current source it will try to dissipate as much power as
its allowed to draw, and, like the tragic heroes of olde, it will destroy itself. Thats why
its important to limit the amount of current flowing across the LED.
For this, we employ resistors. Resistors limit the flow of electrons in the circuit and
protect the LED from trying to draw too much current. Dont worry, it only takes a little
basic math to determine the best resistor value to use. You can find out all about it in
our resistor tutorial!
Dont let all of this math scare you, its actually pretty hard to mess things up too badly. In
the next section, well go over how to make an LED circuit without getting your calculator.
Before we talk about how to read a datasheet, lets hook up some LEDs. After all, this is
an LED tutorial, not a readingtutorial.
Its also not a math tutorial, so well give you a few rules of thumb for getting LEDs up and
running. As youve probably put together from the info in the last section, youll need a
battery, a resistor and an LED. Were using a battery as our power source, because theyre
easy to find and they cant supply a dangerous amount of current.

The basic template for an LED circuit is pretty simple, just connect your battery, resistor
and LED in series. Like this:

A good resistor value for most LEDs is 330 Ohms. You can use the information from the last
section to help you determine the exact value you need, but this is LEDs without math
So, start by popping a 330 Ohm resistor into the above circuit and see what happens.
The interesting thing about resistors is that theyll dissipate extra power as heat, so if you
have a resistor thats getting warm, you probably need to go with a smaller resistance. If
your resistor is too small, however, you run the risk of burning out the LED! Given that you
have a handful of LEDs and resistors to play with, heres a flow chart to help you design
your LED circuit by trial and error:

Ian, Poole. (30
Oktober 2016)