In general, semiconductors are inorganic or organic materials that can control their conduction depending on chemical structure, temperature, illumination, and the presence of dopants. The name semiconductor comes from the fact that these materials have electrical conductivity between a metal, like copper, gold, etc., and an insulator, like glass. They have an energy gap of less than 4eV (about 1eV). In solid-state physics, this energy gap or band gap is an energy range between the valence band and conduction band where electron states are forbidden. In contrast to conductors, semiconductors’ electrons must obtain energy (e.g., from ionizing radiation) to cross the band gap and reach the conduction band. The properties of semiconductors are determined by the energy gap between valence and conduction bands.
Extrinsic Semiconductors: These are impure semiconductors that are intentionally doped with impurities to change their electronic properties. Extrinsic semiconductors can be further classified into two types:
p-type semiconductors: In p-type semiconductors, impurity atoms such as boron are introduced into the semiconductor material. These impurities have fewer valence electrons than the semiconductor material, which results in “holes” (absence of electrons) being created in the valence band. These holes can conduct current like positive charge carriers, which gives the material its p-type designation.
n-type semiconductors: In n-type semiconductors, impurity atoms such as phosphorus are introduced into the semiconductor material. These impurities have more valence electrons than the semiconductor material, which creates excess electrons in the conduction band. These excess electrons can conduct current like negative charge carriers, which gives the material its n-type designation.
The P-N Junction – Reverse Biased Junction
The semiconductor detector operates much better as a radiation detector if an external voltage is applied across the junction in the reverse-biased direction. The depletion region will function as a radiation detector. Improvement can be achieved by using a reverse-bias voltage to the P-N junction to deplete the detector of free carriers, which is the principle of most semiconductor detectors. Reverse biasing a junction increases the thickness of the depletion region because the potential difference across the junction is enhanced. Germanium detectors have a p-i-n structure in which the intrinsic (i) region is sensitive to ionizing radiation, particularly X and gamma rays. Under reverse bias, an electric field extends across the intrinsic or depleted region. In this case, a negative voltage is applied to the p-side and positive to the second one. Holes in the p-region are attracted from the junction towards the p contact and similarly for electrons and the n contact. In proportion to the energy deposited in the detector by the incoming photon, this charge is converted into a voltage pulse by an integral charge-sensitive preamplifier.
See also: Germanium Detectors, MIRION Technologies. <available from: https://www.mirion.com/products/germanium-detectors>.