Semiconductors: Small Parts with a Big Job

In our modern world, nearly every electronic device we use has a something in common: the semiconductor. From computers to phones, radios to even the cars we drive, semiconductors are a part of virtually every aspect of our lives. Because of that, the need for companies like who distribute electronics components as well as those who manufacture them.
Whether we realize it or not, semiconductors have become such an integral part of our lives that many of us wouldn’t know how to survive without them. Take for example the personal computer. How many daily tasks do you do that involve a computer? Most of us, to some degree, use computers for work, to run a household, to do banking, to go to school, to connect with family and friends, and more. Our cellphones (which are essentially just small-scale computers) make powerful use of semiconductors to help us perform daily tasks such as texting, making phone calls, finding information, and staying connected in a million different ways.
So, what exactly is a semiconductor? That requires a fairly technical answer, but essentially a semiconductor is a material that has the ability to conduct a small amount of electrical current in a controlled environment. This electrical current can be controlled in two ways: dynamically or permanently, and which one is used depends upon the needs of the device in which the current is used, such as transistors, photovoltaic cells, or diodes. Generally, semiconductor materials have lower electrical current resistance in one direction over the other.
To understand how semiconductors really work, it’s best to examine the simplest form of semiconductor: the diode. Silicon is a very common element, found in things like sand and quartz. Located on the periodic table adjacent to aluminum, germanium and carbon, silicon shares with these elements a unique property. All of these elements have four electrons in their outer orbital, which allows them to form crystals. When these electrons bond with neighbouring atoms, they create a lattice. In the case of silicon lattice, all of the atoms bond to their neighbours, leaving no electrons free to conduct electrical currents. Because of that, silicon crystals are not conductors, they are insulators.
By contrast, metals are good conductors because their free electrons can travel between atoms, a necessary component of electricity. Despite the fact that silicon crystals have a metallic look, they aren’t actually made of metal. As very little electricity will flow through a silicon crystal, these crystals are insulators. However, if you introduce small amounts of other elements to that crystal, the crystal can conduct electricity. Semiconductors aren’t made of one particular material; they are made of several materials. The most commonly used material is silicon, but other things are often used as well, such as gallium arsenide, germanium and silicon carbide. Silicon and geranium are pure elements, and gallium arsenide and cadmium selenide are compounds, in which small amounts of impurities are added to pure semiconductors that alter the conductivity of the material (a process known as doping).

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Israa Elkhatib

I was born in Palestine but raised with the fireflies in Georgia. My teenage years were spent being the Muslim nerd who was known as the bookworm of the school. That followed me back to Palestine, to develop into being the girl with the big vocabulary. I spent most of my high-school days cursing Newton for not eating that apple. My English Literature Bachelor's degree was only obtained because I'm a nerd for literature and my minor in Translation pretty much pays the bills, thank you Birzeit University.Creative writing is my passion and reading is my escape from reality into a world where everything is the way you imagine it to be.

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