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Diode From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In electronics, a diode is a component that restricts the direction of movement of charge carriers. Essentially, it allows an
electric current to flow in one direction, but blocks it in the opposite direction. Thus, the diode can be thought of as an
electronic version of a check valve. Circuits that require current flow in only one direction will typically include one or more
diodes in the circuit design.
Early diodes included "cat's whisker" crystals and vacuum tube devices (called thermionic valves in British English). Today the
most common diodes are made from semiconductor materials such as silicon or germanium.

Thermionic and solid state diodes developed in parallel.

The principle of operation of thermionic diodes was discovered by Frederick Guthrie in 1873.

The principle of operation of crystal diodes was discovered in 1874 by the German scientist, Karl Ferdinand Braun .

Thermionic diode principles were rediscovered by Thomas Edison on February 13, 1880 and he took out a patent in
1883 (U.S. Patent 307031), but developed the idea no further.

Braun patented the crystal rectifier in 1899. The first radio receiver using a crystal diode was built around 1900
by Greenleaf Whittier Pickard.

The first thermionic diode was patented in Britain by John Ambrose Fleming (scientific adviser to the Marconi
Company and former Edison employee) on November 16, 1904 (U.S. Patent 803684 in November 1905).

Pickard received a patent for a silicon crystal detector on November 20, 1906 (U.S. Patent 836531).

At the time of their invention such devices were known as rectifiers.

In 1919 William Henry Eccles coined the term diode from Greek roots; di means 'two', and ode (from odos) means

Thermionic or gaseous state diodes

Thermionic diodes are vacuum tube devices (also known as thermionic valves), which are
arrangements of electrodes surrounded by a vacuum within a glass envelope, similar in appearance to
incandescent light bulbs.
In vacuum tube diodes, a current is passed through the cathode, a filament treated with a mixture of
barium and strontium oxides, which are oxides of alkaline earth metals. The current heats the filament,
causing thermionic emission of electrons into the vacuum envelope. In forward operation, a surrounding
metal electrode, called the anode, is positively charged, so that it electrostatically attracts the emitted
electrons. However, electrons are not easily released from the unheated anode surface when the
voltage polarity is reversed and hence any reverse flow is a very tiny current.
For much of the 20th century vacuum tube diodes were used in analog signal applications, and as rectifiers in power supplies.
Today, tube diodes are only used in niche applications, such as rectifiers in tube guitar and hi-fi amplifiers, and specialized
high-voltage equipment.

Semiconductor diodes
Most modern diodes are based on semiconductor p-n junctions. In a p-n diode, conventional current can flow from the p-type
side (the anode) to the n-type side (the cathode), but not in the opposite direction. Another type of semiconductor diode, the
Schottky diode, is formed from the contact between a metal and a semiconductor rather than by a p-n junction.

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A semiconductor diode's current-voltage, or I-V, characteristic curve is ascribed to the behavior of the so-called depletion layer
or depletion zone which exists at the p-n junction between the differing semiconductors. When a p-n junction is first created,
conduction band (mobile) electrons from the N-doped region diffuse into the P-doped region where there is a large population
of holes (places for electrons in which no electron is present) with which the electrons "recombine". When a mobile electron
recombines with a hole, the hole vanishes and the electron is no longer mobile. Thus, two charge carriers have vanished. The
region around the p-n junction becomes depleted of charge carriers and thus behaves as an insulator.

However, the depletion width cannot grow without limit. For each electron-hole pair that recombines, a positively-charged
dopant ion is left behind in the N-doped region, and a negatively charged dopant ion is left behind in the P-doped region. As
recombination proceeds and more ions are created, an increasing electric field develops through the depletion zone which
acts to slow and then finally stop recombination. At this point, there is a 'built-in' potential across the depletion zone.
If an external voltage is placed across the diode with the same polarity as the built-in potential, the depletion zone continues to
act as an insulator preventing a significant electric current. This is the reverse bias phenomenon. However, if the polarity of the
external voltage opposes the built-in potential, recombination can once again proceed resulting in substantial electric current
through the p-n junction. For silicon diodes, the built-in potential is approximately 0.6 V. Thus, if an external current is passed
through the diode, about 0.6 V will be developed across the diode such that the P-doped region is positive with respect to the
N-doped region and the diode is said to be 'turned on' as it has a forward bias.
A diode's I-V characteristic can be approximated by two regions of operation. Below a certain difference in potential between
the two leads, the depletion layer has significant width, and the diode can be thought of as an open (non-conductive) circuit.
As the potential difference is increased, at some stage the diode will become conductive and allow charges to flow, at which
point it can be thought of as a connection with zero (or at least very low) resistance. More precisely, the transfer function is
logarithmic, but so sharp that it looks like a corner on a zoomed-out graph (see also signal processing).
In a normal silicon diode at rated currents, the voltage drop across a conducting diode is approximately 0.6 to 0.7 volts. The
value is different for other diode types - Schottky diodes can be as low as 0.2 V and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) can be 1.4 V
or more (Blue LEDs can be up to 4.0 V).
Referring to the I-V characteristics image, in the reverse bias region for a normal P-N rectifier diode, the current through the
device is very low (in the A range) for all reverse voltages up to a point called the peak-inverse-voltage (PIV). Beyond this
point a process called reverse breakdown occurs which causes the device to be damaged along with a large increase in
current. For special purpose diodes like the avalanche or zener diodes, the concept of PIV is not applicable since they have a
deliberate breakdown beyond a known reverse current such that the reverse voltage is "clamped" to a known value (called the
zener voltage or breakdown voltage). These devices however have a maximum limit to the current and power in the zener or
avalanche region.

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Shockley diode equation

The Shockley ideal diode equation (named after William Bradford Shockley) is the I-V characteristic of an ideal
diode in either forward or reverse bias (or no bias). It is derived with the assumption that the only processes giving
rise to current in the diode are drift (due to electrical field), diffusion, and thermal recombination-generation. It also
assumes that the recombination-generation (R-G) current in the depletion region is insignificant. This means that
the Shockley equation doesn't account for the processes involved in reverse breakdown and photon-assisted RG. Additionally, it doesn't describe the "leveling off" of the I-V curve at high forward bias due to internal resistance,
nor does it explain the practical deviation from the ideal at very low forward bias due to R-G current in the
depletion region.

I is the diode current,
IS is a scale factor called the saturation current,
VD is the voltage across the diode
VT is the thermal voltage
and n is the emission coefficient.
The emission coefficient n varies from about 1 to 2 depending on the fabrication process and semiconductor
material and in many cases is assumed to be approximately equal to 1 (thus omitted). The thermal voltage VT is
approximately 25.2 mV at room temperature (approximately 25oC or 298K) and is a known constant. It is defined

e is the magnitude of charge on an electron (the elementary charge),
k is Boltzmann's constant,
T is the absolute temperature of the p-n junction

Types of semiconductor diode

There are several types of semiconductor junction diodes:
Normal (p-n) diodes
which operate as described above. Usually made of doped silicon or, more rarely, germanium. Before the development of
modern silicon power rectifier diodes, cuprous oxide and later selenium was used; its low efficiency gave it a much higher
forward voltage drop (typically 1.4 - 1.7 V per "cell," with multiple cells stacked to increase the peak inverse voltage rating in
high voltage rectifiers), and required a large heat sink (often an extension of the diode's metal substrate), much larger than a
silicon diode of the same current ratings would require.
'Gold doped' diodes
As a dopant, gold (or platinum) acts as recombination centers, which help a fast recombination of minority carriers. This allows
the diode to operate at signal frequencies, at the expense of a higher forward voltage drop . A typical example is the 1N914.
Zener diodes
(pronounced /zinr/) Diodes that can be made to conduct backwards. This effect, called Zener breakdown, occurs at a
precisely defined voltage, allowing the diode to be used as a precision voltage reference. In practical voltage reference circuits
Zener and switching diodes are connected in series and opposite directions to balance the temperature coefficient to near

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zero. Some devices labeled as high-voltage Zener diodes are actually avalanche diodes (see below). Two (equivalent) Zeners
in series and in reverse order, in the same package, constitute a transient absorber (or Transorb, a registered trademark).
They are named for Dr. Clarence Melvin Zener of Southern Illinois University, inventor of the device
Avalanche diodes
Diodes that conduct in the reverse direction when the reverse bias voltage exceeds the breakdown voltage. These are
electrically very similar to Zener diodes, and are often mistakenly called Zener diodes, but break down by a different
mechanism, the avalanche effect. This occurs when the reverse electric field across the p-n junction causes a wave of
ionization, reminiscent of an avalanche, leading to a large current. Avalanche diodes are designed to break down at a welldefined reverse voltage without being destroyed. The difference between the avalanche diode (which has a reverse
breakdown above about 6.2 V) and the Zener is that the channel length of the former exceeds the 'mean free path' of the
electrons, so there are collisions between them on the way out. The only practical difference is that the two types have
temperature coefficients of opposite polarities.
Transient voltage suppression (TVS) diodes
These are avalanche diodes designed specifically to protect other semiconductor devices from high-voltage transients. Their
p-n junctions have a much larger cross-sectional area than those of a normal diode, allowing them to conduct large currents to
ground without sustaining damage.
Semiconductors are subject to optical charge carrier generation and therefore most are packaged in light blocking material. If
they are packaged in materials that allow light to pass, their photosensitivity can be utilized. Photodiodes can be used as solar
cells, and in photometry.
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs)
In a diode formed from a direct band-gap semiconductor, such as gallium arsenide, carriers that cross the junction emit
photons when they recombine with the majority carrier on the other side. Depending on the material, wavelengths (or colors)
from the infrared to the near ultraviolet may be produced. The forward potential of these diodes depends on the wavelength of
the emitted photons: 1.2 V corresponds to red, 2.4 to violet. The first LEDs were red and yellow, and higher-frequency diodes
have been developed over time. All LEDs are monochromatic; 'white' LEDs are actually combinations of three LEDs of a
different color, or a blue LED with a yellow scintillator coating. LEDs can also be used as low-efficiency photodiodes in signal
applications. An LED may be paired with a photodiode or phototransistor in the same package, to form an opto-isolator.
Spectral Colors Wavelengths:

380450 nm


450495 nm


495570 nm


570590 nm


590620 nm


620750 nm

Laser diodes
When an LED-like structure is contained in a resonant cavity formed by polishing the parallel end faces, a laser can be formed.
Laser diodes are commonly used in optical storage devices and for high speed optical communication.
Schottky diodes
The Schottky diode (named after German physicist Walter H. Schottky) is a semiconductor diode with a low forward voltage
drop and a very fast switching action. A typical application is discharge-protection for solar cells connected to lead-acid
batteries. While standard silicon diodes have a forward voltage drop of about 0.6 volts, Schottky diodes voltage drop at

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forward biases of around 1 mA is in the range 0.15V to 0.45 V, which makes them useful in voltage clamping applications and
prevention of transistor saturation. This is due to the higher current density in the Schottky diode.
A Schottky diode uses a metal-semiconductor junction as a Schottky barrier (instead of a semiconductor-semiconductor
junction as in conventional diodes). This Schottky barrier results in both very fast switching times and low forward voltage
It is often said that the Schottky diode is a "majority carrier" semiconductor device. This means that if the semiconductor body
is doped N-type, only the N-type carriers (mobile electrons) play a significant role in normal operation of the device. No slow,
random recombination of N- and P- type carriers is involved, so this diode can cease conduction faster than an ordinary PN
rectifier diode. This property in turn allows a smaller device area, which also makes for a faster transition. Therefore broadarea (to increase current throughput) Schottky diodes are useful in switch-mode power converters which operate at
frequencies approaching 1 MHz, where efficiency is improved as a result of the high switching speed when compared with
other diode types. Small-area Schottky diodes are the heart of RF detectors and mixers, which often operate up to 5 GHz.
The most evident limitation of the Schottky diode is difficulty reaching high reverse-bias voltage ratings, and relatively high
series resistance when high voltage ratings are attempted. Relatively high reverse leakage current may present an issue in
some applications.
Commonly encountered Schottky diodes include the 1N5817 series 1 A rectifiers. Schottky metal-semiconductor junctions are
featured in the successors to the 7400 TTL family of logic devices, the 74S, 74LS and 74ALS series, where they are employed
as clamps in parallel with the collector-base junctions of the bipolar transistors to prevent their saturation, thereby greatly
reducing their turn-off delays. (ALS stands for Advanced Low-power Schottky.)
Schottky barrier
A Schottky barrier is a metal-semiconductor junction which has rectifying characteristics, suitable for use as a diode. The
largest differences between a Schottky barrier and a p-n junction are its typically lower junction voltage, and decreased
(almost nonexistent) depletion width in the metal.
Not all metal-semiconductor junctions are Schottky barriers, which rectify current. A metal-semiconductor junction that does
not rectify current is called an Ohmic contact. Rectifying properties depend on the metal's work function, the band gap of the
intrinsic semiconductor, and the type and concentration of dopants in the semiconductor. Design of semiconductor devices
requires familiarity with the Schottky effect to ensure Schottky barriers are not created accidentally where an ohmic connection
is desired.
Schottky barriers, with their lower junction voltage, find application in areas where a device better approximating an ideal diode
is desired. They are also used in conjunction with normal diodes and transistors, where their lower junction voltage is used for
circuit protection (among other things).
Because one of the materials in a Schottky diode is a metal, lower resistance devices are often possible. In addition, the fact
that only one type of dopant is needed may greatly simplify fabrication.
Overall, however, Schottky devices find only limited application compared to other semiconductor technologies.
A Schottky barrier as a device by itself is known as a Schottky diode.
A bipolar junction transistor with a Schottky barrier between the base and the collector is known as a Schottky transistor.
Because the junction voltage of the Schottky barrier is small, the transistor is prevented from saturating too deeply, which
improves the speed when used as a switch. This is the basis for the Schottky and Advanced Schottky TTL families, as well as
their low power variants.
A MESFET, or Metal-Semiconductor FET, is a device similar in operation to the JFET, which utilizes a reverse biased Schottky
barrier to provide the depletion region. A particularly interesting variant of this device is the HEMT, or High Electron Mobility
Transistor, which also utilizes a heterojunction to provide a device with extremely high conductance.
Schottky barriers are commonly used also in semiconductor electrical characterization techniques. In fact, in the
semiconductor part of the junction, a depletion area is created by the potential due to metal electrons, which "push" away
semiconductor electrons. In the depleted area dopants remain ionized and give rise to a "space charge" which, in turn, gives

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rise to a capacitance of the junction. That means that the metal-semiconductor interface and the opposite boundary of the
depleted area are acting like two capacitor plates, with the depleted area as dielectric. By applying voltage to the junction is
possible to vary the depleted zone, which means make the dopant electron be emitted and pushed away (if we apply reverse
voltage to the junction), or being captured (if we apply forward voltage). By analysing the emission and capture of electrons by
dopants (or, more frequently, by crystallographic defects or dislocations, or other electron traps) is possible to characterize the
semiconductor material.
Snap-off or 'step recovery' diodes
The term 'step recovery' relates to the form of the reverse recovery characteristic of these devices. After a forward current has
been passing in an SRD and the current is interrupted or reversed, the reverse conduction will cease very abruptly (as in a
step waveform). SRDs can therefore provide very fast voltage transitions by the very sudden disappearance of the charge
Esaki or tunnel diodes
These have a region of operation showing negative resistance caused by quantum tunneling, thus allowing amplification of
signals and very simple bistable circuits. These diodes are also the type most resistant to nuclear radiation.
Gunn diodes
these are similar to tunnel diodes in that they are made of materials such as GaAs or InP that exhibit a region of negative
differential resistance. With appropriate biasing, dipole domains form and travel across the diode, allowing high frequency
microwave oscillators to be built.
Peltier diodes
are used as sensors, heat engines for thermoelectric cooling. Charge carriers absorb and emit their band gap energies as
There are other types of diodes, which all share the basic function of allowing electrical current to flow in only one direction,
but with different methods of construction.
Point-contact diodes
These work the same as the junction semiconductor diodes described above, but its construction is simpler. A block of n-type
semiconductor is built, and a conducting sharp-point contact made with some group-3 metal is placed in contact with the
semiconductor. Some metal migrates into the semiconductor to make a small region of p-type semiconductor near the contact.
The long-popular 1N34 germanium version is still used in radio receivers as a detector and occasionally in specialized analog
A photodiode is a semiconductor diode that functions as a photodetector. Photodiodes are packaged with either a window or
optical fibre connection, in order to let in the light to the sensitive part of the device. They may also be used without a window
to detect vacuum UV or X-rays.
A phototransistor is in essence nothing more than a bipolar transistor that is encased in a transparent case so that light can
reach the base-collector junction. The phototransistor works like a photodiode, but with a much higher sensitivity for light,
because the electrons that are generated by photons in the base-collector junction are injected into the base, and this current
is then amplified by the transistor operation. However, a phototransistor has a slower response time than a photodiode.
Cat's whisker or crystal diodes
These are a type of point contact diode. The cat's whisker diode consists of a thin or sharpened metal wire pressed against a
semiconducting crystal, typically galena or a lump of coal. The wire forms the anode and the crystal forms the cathode. Cat's
whisker diodes were also called crystal diodes and found application in crystal radio receivers.
Varicap or varactor diodes
These are used as voltage-controlled capacitors. These were important in PLL (phase-locked loop) and FLL (frequency-locked
loop) circuits, allowing tuning circuits, such as those in television receivers, to lock quickly, replacing older designs that took a

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long time to warm up and lock. A PLL is faster than a FLL, but prone to integer harmonic locking (if one attempts to lock to a
broadband signal). They also enabled tunable oscillators in early discrete tuning of radios, where a cheap and stable, but
fixed-frequency, crystal oscillator provided the reference frequency for a voltage-controlled oscillator.
PIN diodes
A PIN diode has a central un-doped, or intrinsic, layer, forming a p-type / intrinsic / n-type structure. They are used as radio
frequency switches, similar to varactor diodes but with a more sudden change in capacitance. They are also used as large
volume ionizing radiation detectors and as photodetectors. PIN diodes are also used in power electronics, as their central layer
can withstand high voltages. Furthermore, the PIN structure can be found in many power semiconductor devices, such as
IGBTs, power MOSFETs, and thyristors.

Current-limiting field-effect diodes

These are actually a JFET with the gate shorted to the source, and function like a two-terminal current-limiting analog to the
Zener diode; they allow a current through them to rise to a certain value, and then level off at a specific value. Also called
CLDs, constant-current diodes, or current-regulating diodes.
Zener Diode
A Zener diode is a type of diode that permits current to flow in the forward
direction like a normal diode, but also in the reverse direction if the voltage is
larger than the rated breakdown voltage or "Zener voltage".
A conventional solid-state diode will not let significant current flow if reversebiased below its reverse breakdown voltage. By exceeding the reverse bias
breakdown voltage, a conventional diode is subject to high current flow due
to avalanche breakdown. Unless this current is limited by external circuitry,
the diode will be permanently damaged. In case of large forward bias (current flow in the direction of the arrow), the diode
exhibits a voltage drop due to internal resistance. The amount of the voltage drop depends on the design of the diode.
A Zener diode exhibits almost the same properties, except the device is especially designed so as to have a greatly reduced
breakdown voltage, the so-called Zener voltage. A Zener diode contains a heavily doped p-n junction allowing electrons to
tunnel from the valence band of the p-type material to the conduction band of the n-type material. A reverse-biased Zener
diode will exhibit a controlled breakdown and let the current flow to keep the voltage across the Zener diode at the Zener
voltage. For example, a diode with a Zener breakdown voltage of 3.2 V will exhibit a voltage drop of 3.2 V if reverse biased.
However, the current is not unlimited, so the Zener diode is typically used to generate a reference voltage for an amplifier
stage, or as a voltage stabilizer for low-current applications.
The breakdown voltage can be controlled quite accurately in the doping process. Tolerances to within 0.05% are available
though the most widely used tolerances are 5% and 10%.
The effect was discovered by the American physicist Clarence Melvin Zener.
Another mechanism that produces a similar effect is the avalanche effect as in the avalanche diode. The two types of diode
are in fact constructed the same way and both effects are present in diodes of this type. In silicon diodes up to about 5.6 volts,
the zener effect is the predominant effect and shows a marked negative temperature coefficient. Above 5.6 volts, the
avalanche effect becomes predominant and exhibits a positive temperature coefficient.
In a 5.6 V diode, the two effects occur together and their temperature coefficients neatly cancel each other out, thus the 5.6 V
diode is the part of choice in temperature critical applications.
Modern manufacturing techniques have produced devices with voltages lower than 5.6 V with negligible temperature
coefficients, but as higher voltage devices are encountered, the temperature coefficient rises dramatically. A 75 V diode has
10 times the coefficient of a 12 V diode.


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Radio demodulation
The first use for the diode was the demodulation of amplitude modulated (AM) radio broadcasts. The history of this discovery
is treated in depth in the radio article. In summary, an AM signal consists of alternating positive and negative peaks of voltage,
whose amplitude or 'envelope' is proportional to the original audio signal, but whose average value is zero. The diode
(originally a crystal diode) rectifies the AM signal, leaving a signal whose average amplitude is the desired audio signal. The
average value is extracted using a simple filter and fed into an audio transducer, which generates sound.
Power conversion
Rectifiers are constructed from diodes, where they are used to convert alternating current (AC) electricity into direct current
(DC). Similarly, diodes are also used in Cockcroft-Walton voltage multipliers to convert AC into very high DC voltages.
Over-voltage protection
Diodes are frequently used to conduct damaging high voltages away from sensitive electronic devices. They are usually
reverse-biased (non-conducting) under normal circumstances, and become forward-biased (conducting) when the voltage
rises above its normal value. For example, diodes are used in stepper motor and relay circuits to de-energize coils rapidly
without the damaging voltage spikes that would otherwise occur. Many integrated circuits also incorporate diodes on the
connection pins to prevent external voltages from damaging their sensitive transistors. Specialized diodes are used to protect
from over-voltages at higher power (see Diode types above).
Logic gates
Diodes can be combined with other components to construct AND and OR logic gates. This is referred to as diode logic.
Ionizing radiation detectors
In addition to light, mentioned above, semiconductor diodes are sensitive to more energetic radiation. In electronics, cosmic
rays and other sources of ionizing radiation cause noise pulses and single and multiple bit errors. This effect is sometimes
exploited by particle detectors to detect radiation. A single particle of radiation, with thousands or millions of electron volts of
energy, generates many charge carrier pairs, as its energy is deposited in the semiconductor material. If the depletion layer is
large enough to catch the whole shower or to stop a heavy particle, a fairly accurate measurement of the particle's energy can
be made, simply by measuring the charge conducted and without the complexity of a magnetic spectrometer or etc. These
semiconductor radiation detectors need efficient and uniform charge collection and low leakage current. They are often cooled
by liquid nitrogen. For longer range (about a centimeter) particles they need a very large depletion depth and large area. For
short range particles, they need any contact or un-depleted semiconductor on at least one surface to be very thin. The backbias voltages are near breakdown (around a thousand volts per centimeter). Germanium and silicon are common materials.
Some of these detectors sense position as well as energy. They have a finite life, especially when detecting heavy particles,
because of radiation damage. Silicon and germanium are quite different in their ability to convert gamma rays to electron
Semiconductor detectors for high energy particles are used in large numbers. Because of energy loss fluctuations, accurate
measurement of the energy deposited is of less use.
Temperature measuring
A diode can be used as a temperature measuring device, since the forward voltage drop across the diode depends on
temperature. This temperature dependence follows from the Shockley ideal diode equation given above.
Charge coupled devices
Digital cameras and similar units use arrays of photo diodes, integrated with readout circuitry.

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Organic light-emitting diode

An organic light-emitting diode (OLED) is a special type of light-emitting diode (LED) in which the emissive
layer comprises a thin-film of certain organic compounds. The emissive electroluminescent layer can include a
polymeric substance that allows the deposition of very suitable organic compounds, for example, in rows and
columns on a flat carrier by using a simple "printing" method to create a matrix of pixels which can emit different
color light. Such systems can be used in television screens, computer displays, portable system screens, and in
advertising and information and indication applications etc. OLEDs can also be used in light sources for general
space illumination. OLEDs lend themselves for the implementation of large areal light-emitting elements. OLEDs
typically emit less light per area than inorganic solid-state based LEDs which are usually designed for use as
point light sources. Prior to standardization, OLED technology was also referred to as OEL or Organic ElectroLuminescence.
One of the great benefits of an OLED display over the traditional LCD displays is that OLEDs do not require a
backlight to function. This means that they draw far less power and, when powered from a battery, can operate
longer on the same charge. It is also known that OLED based display devices can be more effectively
manufactured than liquid-crystal and plasma displays. However, degradation of OLED materials have limited the
use of these materials and it is hoped that new organic compounds will be found that offer long enough lifetime to
make OLED technology practically useful.

Small Molecules and Polymers

Small-molecule OLED technology was developed by Eastman-Kodak.
The production of small-molecule displays requires vacuum deposition which makes the production process more
expensive than other processing techniques (see below). Since this is typically carried out on glass substrates,
these displays are also not flexible, though this limitation is not inherent to small molecule organic materials. The
term OLED traditionally refers to this type of device, though some are using the term SM-OLED.
A second technology, developed by Cambridge Display Technologies or CDT, is called LEP or Light-Emitting
Polymer, though these devices are better known as polymer light-emitting diodes (PLEDs). No vacuum is
required, and the emissive materials can be applied on the substrate by a technique derived from commercial
inkjet printing. This means that PLED displays can be made in a very flexible and inexpensive way.
Recently a third hybrid light-emitting layer has been developed that uses nonconductive polymers doped with
light-emitting, conductive molecules. The polymer is used for its production and mechanical advantages without
worrying about optical properties. The small molecules then emit the light and have the same longevity that they
have in the SM-OLEDs.
A polymer light-emitting diode is an electroluminescent polymer that emits light when subjected to an electric
current. It is used as a thin film for full-spectrum color displays and requires a relatively small amount of power for
the light produced.

An OLED works on the principle of electroluminescence. The key to the operation of an OLED is an organic luminophore. An
exciton, which consists of a bound, excited electron and hole pair, is generated inside the emissive layer. When the exciton's
electron and hole combine, a photon can be emitted. A major challenge in OLED manufacture is tuning the device such that
an equal number of holes and electrons meet in the emissive layer. This is difficult because, in an organic compound, the
mobility of an electron is much lower than that of a hole.

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An exciton can be in one of two states, singlet or triplet. Only one in four excitons is a singlet. The materials currently
employed in the emissive layer are typically fluorophors, which can only emit light when a singlet exciton forms, which reduces
the OLED's efficiency.
Luckily, by incorporating transition metals into a small-molecule OLED, the triplet and singlet states can be mixed by spin-orbit
coupling, which leads to emission from the triplet state. However, this emission is always redshifted, making blue light more
difficult to achieve from a triplet excited state. It is pointed out that triplet emitters can be four times more efficient than OLED
To create the excitons, a thin film of the luminophore is sandwiched between electrodes of differing work functions. Electrons
are injected into one side from a metal cathode, while holes are injected in the other from an anode. The electron and hole
move into the emissive layer and can meet to form an exciton. Mechanisms and details of exciton formation are discussed in [1]
and [2].
Derivatives of PPV, poly(p-phenylene vinylene) and poly(fluorene), are commonly used as polymer luminophores in OLEDs.
Indium tin oxide is a common transparent anode, while aluminium or calcium are common cathode materials. Other materials[3]
are added between the emissive layer and the cathode or the anode to facilitate or hinder hole or electron injection, thereby
enhancing the OLED efficiency.

The radically different manufacturing process of OLEDs lends itself to many advantages over flat panel displays made with
LCD technology. Since OLEDs can be printed onto any suitable substrate using inkjet printer technology, they can theoretically
have a significantly lower cost than LCDs or plasma displays. The fact that OLEDs can be printed onto flexible substrates
opens the door to new applications such as roll-up displays or even displays embedded in clothing.
The range of colors, brightness, and viewing angle possible with OLEDs are greater than that of LCDs because OLED pixels
directly emit light. LCDs employ a backlight and are incapable of showing true black, while an "off" OLED element produces no
light and consumes no power. In LCDs, energy is also wasted because the liquid crystal acts as a Polarizer which filters out
about half of the light emitted by the backlight.

The biggest technical problem left to overcome has been the limited lifetime of the organic materials. Particularly, blue OLEDs
typically have lifetimes of around 5,000 hours when used for flat panel displays, which is lower than typical lifetimes of LCD or
Plasma technology. However, recent experimentation has shown that it's possible to swap the chemical component for a
phosphorescent one, if the subtle differences in energy transitions are accounted for, resulting in lifetimes of up to 20,000
hours for blue PHOLEDs.
Also, the intrusion of water into displays can damage or destroy the organic materials. Therefore, improved sealing processes
are important for practical manufacturing and may limit the longevity of more flexible displays.
Commercial development of the technology is also restrained by patents held by Eastman Kodak and other firms, requiring
other companies to acquire a license. In the past, many display technologies have become widespread only once the patents
had expired; aperture grille CRT is a classic example.

Commercial Uses
OLED technology is being used in commercial applications such as small screens for mobile phones and portable digital music
players (mp3 players), car radios and digital cameras and also in high resolution microdisplays for head-mounted displays.
Also, prototypes have been made of flexible and rollable displays which take advantage of OLEDs unique characteristics.
OLEDs could also be used as solid state light sources. As by now the OLED efficacies and lifetime already go beyond those of
tungsten bulbs, white OLEDs are under worldwide investigation as source for general illumination.

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A PHOLED is used to signify a phosphorescent OLED. This type of technology is currently under development by
a Ewing, New Jersey company called Universal Display Corporation.

Method of Operation
Like all types of OLEDs, PHOLEDs function via the following method: an electric current is applied to organic
molecules, which then emit bright light [1]. However, PHOLEDs use "...the principle of electro-phosphorescence to
convert up to 100% of the electrical energy in an OLED into light."[2]. In comparison, traditional fluorescent OLEDs
only convert approximately 25-30% of electrical energy into light. LCD displays, the current favorite technology for
use in flat-screen devices, are even less efficient, converting only 10% of electrical energy into light.
Due to their extremely high level of energy efficiency, even when compared to other OLEDs, PHOLEDs are being
studied for potential use in large-screen displays such as television monitors or TV screens, as well as general
lighting needs. One potential use of PHOLEDs as lighting devices is to cover walls with gigantic PHOLED
displays. This would allow entire rooms to glow uniformly, rather than require the use of light bulbs which
distribute light unequally throughout a room. The United States Department of Energy has recognized the
potential for massive energy savings via the use of this technology and therefore has awarded $200,000 in
contracts to develop PHOLED products for general lighting applications.

Luminous Efficacy
Luminous efficacy is the ratio of the total apparent power of a light source to its actual total power. In other words, it is the
ratio of luminous flux to radiant flux. Wavelengths of light outside of the visible spectrum are not useful for illumination because
they cannot be seen by the human eye. Furthermore, the eye responds more to some wavelengths of light than others, even
within the visible spectrum. This response of the eye is represented by the luminosity function. Luminous efficacy measures
the fraction of power which is useful for lighting. One can distinguish photopic and scotopic luminous efficacy. Scotopic
luminous efficacy reaches a maximum of 1700 lm/W for narrowband light of wavelength 507 nm. Photopic luminous efficacy
has the maximum possible efficacy of 683 lm/W at a wavelength of 555 nm. The remainder of this article deals with photopic
luminous efficacy.

In SI, luminous efficacy has the unit lumen per watt (lm/W). This is because it equals luminous flux divided by radiant flux. In
some other systems of units, luminous flux has the same units as radiant flux. The luminous efficacy is then dimensionless. In
this case, it is often instead called the luminous efficiency or luminous coefficient and may be expressed as a percent. For
example, it is common to express the luminous efficiency in units where the maximum possible efficacy, 683 lm/W,
corresponds to an efficiency of 100%

Luminous efficacy Luminous efficiency


ideal black-body radiator at 4000 K



ideal black-body radiator at 7000 K





ideal monochromatic 555 nm source



Natural sunlight



ideal white light source

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Overall luminous efficacy

A related quantity is the overall luminous efficacy, which is the ratio between the total luminous flux emitted by a device and
the total electrical power consumed by it. This is often simply called "luminous efficacy", which can be confusing as it also has
units of lm/W. The overall luminous efficacy is a measure of the efficiency of the device with the output adjusted to account for
the spectral response curve (the "luminosity function"). When expressed in dimensionless form (for example, as a fraction of
the maximum possible luminous efficacy), this value may be called overall luminous efficiency.



luminous efficacy (lm/W) luminous efficiency






40 W tungsten incandescent



100 W tungsten incandescent




glass halogen



quartz halogen



high-temperature incandescent







13 W twin-tube fluorescent
compact fluorescent

Light-emitting diode white LED



up to 131

up to 19%

xenon arc lamp



mercury-xenon arc lamp



high pressure sodium lamp



low pressure sodium lamp

183 up to 200


white LED (prototypes)

Arc lamp
Gas discharge

SI photometry units


Luminous energy


lumen second

Luminous flux

lumen (= cdsr)


also called luminous power



candela (= lm/sr)


an SI base unit



candela per square




lux (= lm/m2)


Used for light incident on a surface



lux (= lm/m2)


Used for light emitted from a surface

Luminous efficacy

SI unit

lumen per watt



lms units are sometimes called Talbots

cd/m2 units are sometimes called nits


ratio of luminous flux to radiant flux; maximum

possible is 683.002

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