Extrinsic Semiconductors

In our article on semiconductors, we discussed that semiconductors are amorphous or crystalline solids that have a conductivity between that of a conductor and an insulator, either due to the presence of an impurity (extrinsic semiconductors) or because of temperature change. They are mainly classified into two types as follows:

  • Intrinsic semiconductors
  • Extrinsic semiconductors

The conductivity of an intrinsic semiconductor depends on the surrounding temperature. At room temperature, it exhibits a low conductivity. Due to its low conductivity, it is deemed unsuitable for use in electronic devices. In order to deal with this problem, the concept of doping arose, and as a result of which, extrinsic semiconductors were manufactured. In this section, we will discuss extrinsic semiconductors.

Table of Contents:

Why Are Semiconductors Doped?

Extrinsic semiconductors are semiconductors that are doped with specific impurities. The impurity modifies the electrical properties of the semiconductor and makes it more suitable for electronic devices such as diodes and transistors.

While adding impurities, a small amount of suitable impurity is added to pure material, increasing its conductivity by many times. Extrinsic semiconductors are also called impurity semiconductors or doped semiconductors. The process of adding impurities deliberately is termed as doping and the atoms that are used as an impurity are termed as dopants. The impurity modifies the electrical properties of the semiconductor and makes it more suitable for electronic devices such as diodes and transistors.

The dopant added to the material is chosen such that the original lattice of the pure semiconductor is not distorted. Also, the dopants occupy only a few of the sites in the crystal of the original semiconductor, and it is necessary that the size of the dopant is nearly equal to the size of the semiconductor atoms.

Read More: Semiconductor Devices

Some Commonly Used Dopants

While doping tetravalent atoms such as Si or Ge, two types of dopants are used, and they are:

  • Pentavalent atoms: Atoms with valency 5; such as Arsenic (As), Phosphorous (Pi), Antimony (Sb), etc.
  • Trivalent atoms: Atoms with valency 3; such as Indium (In), Aluminium (Al), Boron (B), etc.

The reason behind using these dopants is to have similar-sized atoms as the pure semiconductor. Both Silicon and Germanium atoms belong to the fourth group in the periodic table. Hence, the choice of dopants from the third and fifth group is more viable. This ensures that the size of the atoms is not very different from the fourth group. Therefore, the trivalent and pentavalent choices. These dopants give rise to two types of semiconductors as follows:

  • n-type semiconductors
  • p-type semiconductors

Extrinsic Semiconductors

In the next section, let us discuss each of their characteristics.

Extrinsic Semiconductors

n-type Semiconductors

When a tetravalent atom such as Si or Ge is doped with a pentavalent atom, it occupies the position of an atom in the crystal lattice of the Si atom. The four of the electrons of the pentavalent atom bond with the four neighbouring silicon atoms, and the fifth one remains weakly bound to the parent atom. As a result, the ionization energy required to set the fifth electron free is very low, and the electrons become free to move in the lattice of the semiconductor. Such semiconductors are termed as n-type semiconductors.

p-type Semiconductors

When a tetravalent atom such as Si or Ge is doped with a trivalent impurity such as Al, B, In, etc., the dopant atom has one less electron than the surrounding atoms of Si or Ge. Thus, the fourth atom of the tetravalent atom is free, and a hole or vacancy is generated in the trivalent atom. In such materials, the holes are the charge carriers, and such semiconductors are termed p-type semiconductors.

Frequently Asked Questions


Define the terms generation and recombination of charge carriers.

The generation of carriers is defined as the process in which free electrons and holes are generated in pairs.
Recombination of carriers is defined as the process of removing the free electrons and the holes. A free electron and hole get removed when a free electron from the conduction band falls into a hole in the valence band.


State if the given statement is true or false: Semiconductor acts as an insulator in the presence of impurities.

The given statement is false. The semiconductor’s conductivity depends on the temperature and presence of impurities. As the temperature is increased or impurities are added, the conductivity increases.


Name the elements that make a good semiconductor.

There are two elements that make a good semiconductor: Silicon and Germanium. Both elements have four valence electrons.


What happens when a pentavalent impurity is added to a pure semiconductor?

When a pentavalent impurity is added to a pure semiconductor, an n-type semiconductor is obtained. This is because a pure semiconductor has 4 valence electrons. When a pentavalent impurity is added, one electron is free and available for conduction. This is the reason for the formation of n-type semiconductor.


Why Silicon is preferred over Germanium for semiconductor devices?

Silicon is preferred over Germanium for semiconductor devices because of the following reasons:

  • Silicon has a smaller collector cut off current than Germanium since it has fewer free electrons.
  • The peak inverse voltage of silicon diode is greater than the Germanium diode.
  • Economically Silicon is more feasible than Germanium.

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