With its high power dividers and other complex technical accessories, a semiconductor is something that few people understand but almost everyone relies on every day. Semiconductors are elements that take on a crystalline solid structure. They are called this because they have more ability to conduct electricity than insulators but less than conductors.
Examples of elements that are semiconductors include gallium, arsenic, selenium, and tin. One of the most commonly used semiconductors is silicon. It is commonly used in electronics, which is why the center of that industry in California is nicknamed “Silicon Valley.” Here are some of the most important applications for semiconductors.
The flat surfaces of solar panels are coated with a semiconductor, usually silicon, to absorb energy from the sun and transform it into electricity without the need for a turbine. When the sunlight hits the surface of the panel, it causes the atoms in the semiconductor material to release their electrons, which travel to the front of the panel. This causes an imbalance of electrical charge which creates voltage potential similar to that created between the two poles of a battery. Hence, solar panels convert sunlight directly into electricity because of semiconductors.
Semiconductors allow light-emitting diodes to put forth a bright glow when exposed to electricity. LEDs are far more efficient than older forms of artificial lighting. Traditional lamps lose a lot of energy in heat and tend to burn out quickly. LEDs produce almost no heat and can continue to work for many years, possibly even decades if used only a few hours per day.
There are two types of electrical current. In a direct current, electrons move in only one direction, while in an alternating current, they keep switching directions. Direct current is used in batteries, while alternating current is what most appliances and some electronics run on. It is sometimes necessary to convert an alternating currently into a direct current, such as when a battery is getting recharged. Semiconductors are used in full-wave rectifiers to accomplish that. Half-wave rectifiers use semiconductors to produce a direct current.
Television, cell phones, radio, and anything that transmits a signal for communication makes use of semiconductors in the form of varactor diodes. These components change the frequency of electrical signals, which tunes the audio output.
Devices containing semiconductors as components are highly valued, not only for their power efficiency as previously illustrated but also for their relatively low cost, compactness, and reliability.