Special Purpose Diodes

The unique characteristics of semiconductor material have allowed for the development of many specialized types of diodes. A short description of some of the more common diode types is given for general familiarization. Figure 10-205 illustrates the schematic symbols for some of the special purpose diodes.

Light-Emitting Diode (LED)

In a forward biased diode, electrons cross the junction and fall into holes. As the electrons fall into the valence band, they radiate energy. In a rectifier diode, this energy is dissipated as heat. However, in the light-emitting diode (LED), the energy is dissipated as light. By using elements, such as gallium, arsenic, and phosphorous, an LED can be designed to radiate colors, such as red, green, yellow, blue and inferred light. LEDs that are designed for the visible light portion of the spectrum are useful for instruments, indicators, and even cabin lighting. The advantages of the LED over the incandescent lamps are longer life, lower voltage, faster on and off operations, and less heat.

Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD)

The liquid crystal display (LCD) has an advantage over the LED in that it requires less power to operate. Where LEDs commonly operate in the milliwatt range, the LCD operates in the microwatt range. The liquid crystal is encapsulated between two glass plates. When voltage is not applied to the LCD, the display will be clear. However, when a voltage is applied, the result is a change in the orientation of the atoms of the crystals. The incident light will then be reflected in a different direction. A frosted appearance will result in the regions that have voltage applied and will permit distinguishing of numeric values.


Thermal energy produces minority carriers in a diode. The higher the temperature, the greater the current in a reverse current diode. Light energy can also produce minority carriers. By using a small window to expose the PN junction, a photodiode can be built. When light fall upon the junction of a reverse- biased photodiode, electrons-hole pairs are created inside the depletion layer. The stronger the light, the greater the number of light-produced carriers, which in turn causes a greater magnitude of reverse-current. Because of this characteristic, the photodiode can be used in light detecting circuits.


The varactor is simply a variable-capacitance diode. The reverse voltage applied controls the variablecapacitance of the diode. The transitional capacitance will decrease as the reverse voltage is increasingly applied. In many applications, the varactor has replaced the old mechanically tuned capacitors. Varactors can be placed in parallel with an inductor and provide a resonant tank circuit for a tuning circuit. By simply varying the reverse voltage across the varactor, the resonant frequency of the circuit can be adjusted.

Schottky Diodes

Schottky diodes are designed to have a metal, such as gold, silver, or platinum, on one side of the junction and doped silicon, usually an N-type, on the other side of the junction. This type of a diode is considered a unipoler device because free electrons are the majority carrier on both sides of the junction. The Schottky diode has no depletion zone or charge storage, which means that the switching time can be as high as 300 MHz. This characteristic exceeds that of the bipolar diode.

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