The transistor is an arrangement of semiconductor materials that share common physical boundaries. Materials most commonly used are silicon, gallium-arsenide, and germanium, into which impurities have been introduced by a process called "doping." In n-type semiconductors the impurities or dopants result in an excess of electrons, or negative charges; in p-type semiconductors the dopants lead to a deficiency of electrons and therefore an excess of positive charge carriers or "holes."The Junction Transistor
The n-p-n junction transistor consists of two n-type semiconductors (called the emitter and collector) separated by a thin layer of p-type semiconductor (called the base). The transistor action is such that if the electric potentials on the segments are properly determined, a small current between the base and emitter connections results in a large current between the emitter and collector connections, thus producing current amplification. Some circuits are designed to use the transistor as a switching device; current in the base-emitter junction creates a low-resistance path between the collector and emitter. The p-n-p junction transistor, consisting of a thin layer of n-type semiconductor lying between two p-type semiconductors, works in the same manner, except that all polarities are reversed.The Field-Effect Transistor
A very important type of transistor developed after the junction transistor is the field-effect transistor (FET). It draws virtually no power from an input signal, overcoming a major disadvantage of the junction transistor. An n-channel FET consists of a bar (channel) of n-type semiconductor material that passes between and makes contact with two small regions of p-type material near its center. The terminals attached to the ends of the channel are called the source and the drain; those attached to the two p-type regions are called gates. A voltage applied to the gates is directed so that no current exists across the junctions between the p- and n-type materials; for this reason it is called a reverse voltage. Variations of the magnitude of the reverse voltage cause variations in the resistance of the channel, enabling the reverse voltage to control the current in the channel. A p-channel device works the same way but with all polarities reversed.
The metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET) is a variant in which a single gate is separated from the channel by a layer of metal oxide, which acts as an insulator, or dielectric. The electric field of the gate extends through the dielectric and controls the resistance of the channel. In this device the input signal, which is applied to the gate, can increase the current through the channel as well as decrease it.
The invention of the transistor by American physicists John Bardeen, Walter H. Brattain, and William Shockley, later jointly awarded a Nobel Prize, was announced by the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1948; it was also independently developed nearly simultaneously by Herbert Mataré and Heinrich Welker, German physicists working at Westinghouse Laboratory in Paris. Since then many types have been designed. Transistors are very durable, are very small, have a high resistance to physical shock, and are very inexpensive. At one time, only discrete devices existed; they were usually sealed in ceramic, with a wire extending from each segment to the outside, where it could be connected to an electric circuit. The vast majority of transistors now are built as parts of integrated circuits. Transistors are used in virtually all electronic devices, including radio and television receivers, computers, and space vehicles and guided missiles.
In electronics, a transistor is a semiconductor device commonly used to amplify or switch electronic signals. A transistor is made of a solid piece of a semiconductor material, with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals changes the current flowing through another pair of terminals. Because the controlled power can be much larger than the controlling power, the transistor provides amplification of a signal. The transistor is the fundamental building block of modern electronic devices, and is used in radio, telephone, computer and other electronic systems. Some transistors are packaged individually but most are found in integrated circuits.
The first patent for the field-effect transistor principle was filed in Canada by Austrian-Hungarian physicist Julius Edgar Lilienfeld on October 22, 1925, but Lilienfeld did not publish any research articles about his devices. In 1934 German physicist Dr. Oskar Heil patented another field-effect transistor. There is no direct evidence that these devices were built, but later work in the 1990s shows that one of Lilienfeld's designs worked as described and gave substantial gain. Legal papers from the Bell Labs patent show that William Shockley and Gerald Pearson had built operational versions from Lilienfeld's patents, yet they never referenced this work in any of their later research papers or historical articles. On 17 November 1947 John Bardeen and Walter Brattain observed that when electrical contacts were applied to a crystal of germanium, the output power was larger than the input. Shockley saw the potential in this and worked over the next few months greatly expanding the knowledge of semiconductors and is considered by many to be the 'father' of the transistor.
The transistor is considered by many to be the greatest invention of the twentieth century. It is the key active component in practically all modern electronics. Its importance in today's society rests on its ability to be mass produced using a highly automated process (fabrication) that achieves astonishingly low per-transistor costs.
Although several companies each produce over a billion individually-packaged (known as discrete) transistors every year, the vast majority of transistors produced are in integrated circuits (often shortened to IC, microchips or simply chips) along with diodes, resistors, capacitors and other electronic components to produce complete electronic circuits. A logic gate consists of about twenty transistors whereas an advanced microprocessor, as of 2006, can use as many as 1.7 billion transistors (MOSFETs). "About 60 million transistors were built this year  ... for [each] man, woman, and child on Earth.
The transistor's low cost, flexibility and reliability have made it a ubiquitous device. Transistorized mechatronics circuits have replaced electromechanical in controlling appliances and machinery. It is often easier and cheaper to use a standard microcontroller and write a computer program to carry out a control function than to design an equivalent mechanical control function.
Because of the low cost of transistors and hence digital computers, there is a trend to digitize information, such as the Internet Archive. With digital computers offering the ability to quickly find, sort and process digital information, more and more effort has been put into making information digital. As a result, today, much media data is delivered in digital form, finally being converted and presented in analog form to the user. Areas influenced by the digital revolution include television, radio, and newspapers.
For a basic guide to the operation of transistors, see How a transistor works.
In the early days of transistor circuit design, the bipolar junction transistor, or BJT, was the most commonly used transistor. Even after MOSFETs became available, the BJT remained the transistor of choice for digital and analog circuits because of their ease of manufacture and speed. However, desirable properties of MOSFETs, such as their utility in low-power devices, have made them the ubiquitous choice for use in digital circuits and a very common choice for use in analog circuits.
From mobile phones to televisions, vast numbers of products include amplifiers for sound reproduction, radio transmission, and signal processing. The first discrete transistor audio amplifiers barely supplied a few hundred milliwatts, but power and audio fidelity gradually increased as better transistors became available and amplifier architecture evolved.
Transistors are commonly used in modern musical instrument amplifiers, in which circuits up to a few hundred watts are common and relatively cheap. Transistors have largely replaced valves (electron tubes) in instrument amplifiers. Some musical instrument amplifier manufacturers mix transistors and vacuum tubes in the same circuit, to utilize the inherent benefits of both devices.
The "first generation" of electronic computers used vacuum tubes (also called "electron tubes"), which generated large amounts of heat, were bulky, and were unreliable. The development of the transistor was key to computer miniaturization and reliability. The "second generation" of computers, through the late 1950s and 1960s featured boards filled with individual transistors and magnetic memory cores. Subsequently, transistors, other components, and their necessary wiring were integrated into a single, mass-manufactured component: the integrated circuit.
Prior to the development of transistors, vacuum (electron) tubes (or in the UK "thermionic valves" or just "valves") were the main active components in electronic equipment.
The key advantages that have allowed transistors to replace their vacuum tube predecessors in most applications are:
|- align = "center" | || PNP || || P-channel |- align = "center" | || NPN || || N-channel |- align = "center" | BJT || || JFET ||
|- align = "center" | || || || || P-channel |- align = "center" | || || || || N-channel |- align = "center" | JFET || colspan="2"| MOSFET enh || MOSFET dep
Transistors are categorized by:
Thus, a particular transistor may be described as: silicon, surface mount, BJT, NPN, low power, high frequency switch.
The bipolar junction transistor (BJT) was the first type of transistor to be mass-produced. Bipolar transistors are so named because they conduct by using both majority and minority carriers. The three terminals of the BJT are named emitter, base and collector. Two p-n junctions exist inside a BJT: the base/emitter junction and base/collector junction. "The [BJT] is useful in amplifiers because the currents at the emitter and collector are controllable by the relatively small base current." In an NPN transistor operating in the active region, the emitter-base junction is forward biased, and electrons are injected into the base region. Because the base is narrow, most of these electrons will diffuse into the reverse-biased base-collector junction and be swept into the collector; perhaps one-hundredth of the electrons will recombine in the base, which is the dominant mechanism in the base current. By controlling the number of electrons that can leave the base, the number of electrons entering the collector can be controlled.
Unlike the FET, the BJT is a low–input-impedance device. Also, as the base–emitter voltage () is increased the base–emitter current and hence the collector–emitter current () increase exponentially according to the Shockley diode model and the Ebers-Moll model. Because of this exponential relationship, the BJT has a higher transconductance than the FET.'''
Bipolar transistors can be made to conduct by exposure to light, since absorption of photons in the base region generates a photocurrent that acts as a base current; the collector current is approximately beta times the photocurrent. Devices designed for this purpose have a transparent window in the package and are called phototransistors.
The field-effect transistor (FET), sometimes called a unipolar transistor, uses either electrons (in N-channel FET) or holes (in P-channel FET) for conduction. The four terminals of the FET are named source, gate, drain, and body (substrate). On most FETs, the body is connected to the source inside the package, and this will be assumed for the following description.
In FETs, the drain-to-source current flows via a conducting channel that connects the source region to the drain region. The conductivity is varied by the electric field that is produced when a voltage is applied between the gate and source terminals; hence the current flowing between the drain and source is controlled by the voltage applied between the gate and source. As the gate–source voltage () is increased, the drain–source current () increases exponentially for Vgs below threshold, and then at a roughly quadratic rate () (where is the threshold voltage at which drain current begins) in the "space-charge-limited" region above threshold. A quadratic behavior is not observed in modern devices, for example, at the 65nm technology node.
For low noise at narrow bandwidth the higher input resistance of the FET is advantageous.
FETs are divided into two families: junction FET (JFET) and insulated gate FET (IGFET). The IGFET is more commonly known as metal–oxide–semiconductor FET (MOSFET), from their original construction as a layer of metal (the gate), a layer of oxide (the insulation), and a layer of semiconductor. Unlike IGFETs, the JFET gate forms a PN diode with the channel which lies between the source and drain. Functionally, this makes the N-channel JFET the solid state equivalent of the vacuum tube triode which, similarly, forms a diode between its grid and cathode. Also, both devices operate in the depletion mode, they both have a high input impedance, and they both conduct current under the control of an input voltage.
Metal–semiconductor FETs (MESFETs) are JFETs in which the reverse biased PN junction is replaced by a metal–semiconductor Schottky-junction. These, and the HEMTs (high electron mobility transistors, or HFETs), in which a two-dimensional electron gas with very high carrier mobility is used for charge transport, are especially suitable for use at very high frequencies (microwave frequencies; several GHz).
Unlike bipolar transistors, FETs do not inherently amplify a photocurrent. Nevertheless, there are ways to use them, especially JFETs, as light-sensitive devices, by exploiting the photocurrents in channel–gate or channel–body junctions.
FETs are further divided into depletion-mode and enhancement-mode types, depending on whether the channel is turned on or off with zero gate-to-source voltage. For enhancement mode, the channel is off at zero bias, and a gate potential can "enhance" the conduction. For depletion mode, the channel is on at zero bias, and a gate potential (of the opposite polarity) can "deplete" the channel, reducing conduction. For either mode, a more positive gate voltage corresponds to a higher current for N-channel devices and a lower current for P-channel devices. Nearly all JFETs are depletion-mode as the diode junctions would forward bias and conduct if they were enhancement mode devices; most IGFETs are enhancement-mode types.
The first BJTs were made from germanium (Ge) and some high power types still are. Silicon (Si) types currently predominate but certain advanced microwave and high performance versions now employ the compound semiconductor material gallium arsenide (GaAs) and the semiconductor alloy silicon germanium (SiGe). Single element semiconductor material (Ge and Si) is described as elemental.
Rough parameters for the most common semiconductor materials used to make transistors are given in the table below; it must be noted that these parameters will vary with increase in temperature, electric field, impurity level, strain and various other factors:
|Junction forward |
V @ 25 °C
|Electron mobility |
m²/(V·s) @ 25 °C
|Hole mobility |
m²/(V·s) @ 25 °C
|Max. junction temp. |
|Ge||0.27||0.39||0.19||70 to 100|
|Si||0.71||0.14||0.05||150 to 200|
|GaAs||1.03||0.85||0.05||150 to 200|
|Al-Si junction||0.3||—||—||150 to 200|
The junction forward voltage is the voltage applied to the emitter-base junction of a BJT in order to make the base conduct a specified current. The current increases exponentially as the junction forward voltage is increased. The values given in the table are typical for a current of 1 mA (the same values apply to semiconductor diodes). The lower the junction forward voltage the better, as this means that less power is required to "drive" the transistor. The junction forward voltage for a given current decreases with increase in temperature. For a typical silicon junction the change is approximately −2.1 mV/°C.
The density of mobile carriers in the channel of a MOSFET is a function of the electric field forming the channel and of various other phenomena such as the impurity level in the channel. Some impurities, called dopants, are introduced deliberately in making a MOSFET, to control the MOSFET electrical behavior.
The electron mobility and hole mobility columns show the average speed that electrons and holes diffuse through the semiconductor material with an electric field of 1 volt per meter applied across the material. In general, the higher the electron mobility the faster the transistor. The table indicates that Ge is a better material than Si in this respect. However, Ge has four major shortcomings compared to silicon and gallium arsenide:
Because the electron mobility is higher than the hole mobility for all semiconductor materials, a given bipolar NPN transistor tends to be faster than an equivalent PNP transistor type. GaAs has the highest electron mobility of the three semiconductors. It is for this reason that GaAs is used in high frequency applications. A relatively recent FET development, the high electron mobility transistor (HEMT), has a heterostructure (junction between different semiconductor materials) of aluminium gallium arsenide (AlGaAs)-gallium arsenide (GaAs) which has double the electron mobility of a GaAs-metal barrier junction. Because of their high speed and low noise, HEMTs are used in satellite receivers working at frequencies around 12 GHz.
Max. junction temperature values represent a cross section taken from various manufacturers' data sheets. This temperature should not be exceeded or the transistor may be damaged.
Al-Si junction refers to the high-speed (aluminum-silicon) semiconductor-metal barrier diode, commonly known as a Schottky diode. This is included in the table because some silicon power IGFETs have a parasitic reverse Schottky diode formed between the source and drain as part of the fabrication process. This diode can be a nuisance, but sometimes it is used in the circuit.
Transistors come in many different packages (Chip carriers) (see images). The two main categories are through-hole (or leaded), and surface-mount, also known as surface mount device (SMD). The ball grid array (BGA) is the latest surface mount package (currently only for large transistor arrays). It has solder "balls" on the underside in place of leads. Because they are smaller and have shorter interconnections, SMDs have better high frequency characteristics but lower power rating.
Transistor packages are made of glass, metal, ceramic or plastic. The package often dictates the power rating and frequency characteristics. Power transistors have large packages that can be clamped to heat sinks for enhanced cooling. Additionally, most power transistors have the collector or drain physically connected to the metal can/metal plate. At the other extreme, some surface-mount microwave transistors are as small as grains of sand.
Often a given transistor type is available in different packages. Transistor packages are mainly standardized, but the assignment of a transistor's functions to the terminals is not: different transistor types can assign different functions to the package's terminals. Even for the same transistor type the terminal assignment can vary (normally indicated by a suffix letter to the part number- i.e. BC212L and BC212K).
A wide range of transistors has been available since the 1960s and manufacturers continually introduce improved types. A few examples from the main families are noted below. Unless otherwise stated, all types are made from silicon semiconductor. Complementary pairs are shown as NPN/PNP or N/P channel. Links go to manufacturer datasheets, which are in PDF format. (On some datasheets the accuracy of the stated transistor category is a matter of debate.)
Part numbers starting with "2S" are from Japan. Transistors with part numbers beginning with 2SA or 2SB are PNP BJTs. Transistors with part numbers beginning with 2SC or 2SD are NPN BJTs. Transistors with part numbers beginning with 2SJ are P-channel FETs (both JFETs and MOSFETs). Transistors with part numbers beginning with 2SK are N-channel FETs (both JFETs and MOSFETs).