A tunnel diode, also known as a Esaki diode, is a unique type of diode that operates based on the principle of quantum tunneling. It was first discovered by Leo Esaki in 1957, leading to his Nobel Prize in Physics in 1973. Unlike conventional diodes, which rely on the principle of majority and minority charge carriers to conduct current, tunnel diodes function by allowing electrons to tunnel through a narrow energy barrier.
The working principle of a tunnel diode can be explained as follows:
Energy Band Diagram: In a tunnel diode, there are two heavily doped regions (N+ and P+) separated by a thin intrinsic region (I). The energy band diagram of a tunnel diode shows that the conduction band of the N+ region is higher than that of the P+ region, while the valence band of the N+ region is lower than that of the P+ region.
Quantum Tunneling: Quantum tunneling is a quantum mechanical phenomenon where particles, such as electrons, can pass through a potential barrier even if they do not have enough energy to overcome it classically. In the case of a tunnel diode, when a small forward voltage is applied across the diode, the electric field generated forces electrons to tunnel from the valence band of the P+ region to the conduction band of the N+ region through the thin intrinsic region. Similarly, holes tunnel in the opposite direction.
Negative Differential Resistance (NDR): This quantum tunneling effect leads to a unique characteristic of tunnel diodes - negative differential resistance. Unlike most electronic devices where an increase in voltage results in an increase in current, tunnel diodes exhibit a decrease in current with increasing voltage in certain voltage ranges. This means that as the voltage increases beyond a certain threshold, the current through the tunnel diode decreases, which is contrary to Ohm's Law.
Applications: Tunnel diodes find applications in various electronic circuits where their negative differential resistance property is advantageous. They are used as oscillators, amplifiers, and high-frequency signal generators. They can also be employed in high-speed switching applications and digital circuits.
It's important to note that the working principle of a tunnel diode is quantum mechanical in nature and requires careful engineering and control of materials and dimensions to achieve the desired characteristics. The diode's specific design parameters determine its voltage range and the extent of negative differential resistance, making it suitable for different applications in electronics.