Summary
In semiconductor physics, the depletion region, also called depletion layer, depletion zone, junction region, space charge region or space charge layer, is an insulating region within a conductive, doped semiconductor material where the mobile charge carriers have been diffused away, or have been forced away by an electric field. The only elements left in the depletion region are ionized donor or acceptor impurities. This region of uncovered positive and negative ions is called the depletion region due to the depletion of carriers in this region, leaving none to carry a current. Understanding the depletion region is key to explaining modern semiconductor electronics: diodes, bipolar junction transistors, field-effect transistors, and variable capacitance diodes all rely on depletion region phenomena. A depletion region forms instantaneously across a p–n junction. It is most easily described when the junction is in thermal equilibrium or in a steady state: in both of these cases the properties of the system do not vary in time; they have been called dynamic equilibrium. Electrons and holes diffuse into regions with lower concentrations of them, much as ink diffuses into water until it is uniformly distributed. By definition, the N-type semiconductor has an excess of free electrons (in the conduction band) compared to the P-type semiconductor, and the P-type has an excess of holes (in the valence band) compared to the N-type. Therefore, when N-doped and P-doped semiconductors are placed together to form a junction, free electrons in the N-side conduction band migrate (diffuse) into the P-side conduction band, and holes in the P-side valence band migrate into the N-side valence band. Following transfer, the diffused electrons come into contact with holes and are eliminated by recombination in the P-side. Likewise, the diffused holes are recombined with free electrons so eliminated in the N-side. The net result is that the diffused electrons and holes are gone.
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