How do electrons and holes flow in a transistor ?

We will now explain the operation for the transistor, using an NPN type. The same operation applies for the PNP transistors as well, but with currents and voltage sources reversed.

With no power applied to the transistor areas,
there are two depletion zones between the two P-N contacts. Suppose now that we connect a power source between the base and the collector in reverse-bias, with the positive of the source connected to the collector and the negative to the base. The depletion zone of the P-N contact between the base and the collector will be widened. Moreover, a slight current will flow withing this contact (due to impurities). This current is the reverse contact current and we will use the symbol ICBO:

Now suppose that we connect another voltage supply between the emitter and the base in forward bias, with the positive of the source connected to the base and the negative connected to the emitter. The depletion zone between the emitter and the base will be shortened, and current (electrons) will flow when the voltage exceeds a specific level. This level depends on the material that the transistor is made of. Germanium (Ge) is the material that was originally used to make transistor, and later Silicon (Si) was used. For Germanium, the voltage is around 0.3 volts (0.27 @ 25oC), and for Silicon the voltage is around 0.7 volts (0.71 @ 25oC). Some of the electrons that go through the e-b depletion zone, will re-connect with holes in the base. This is the base current and we will use the IB symbol for reference. In real life, this current is at the scale of micro-amperes (μA or uA):

But most of the electrons will flow through the base (due to spilling) and will be directed to the collector. When these electrons reach the depletion area between the base and the collector, they will experience a force from the electric field which exists in this zone, and the electrons will pass through the depletion zone. The electrons will then re-connect with holes in the collector. The re-connected holes will be replaced with holes coming from the base-collector power supply (VCC). The movement of these holes equals to a movement of electrons in the opposite direction, from the collector to the supply. In other words, the current that flows to the emitter will be divided into the small base current and the larger collector current:

IE = IB + IC

Generally, the number of electrons that arrive at the collector is the 99% of the total electrons, and the rest 1% causes the base current.

At the collector, except the electrons that come from the emitter, there is also the reverse current from the base-collector contact that we saw before. Both currents flow at the same direction, so they are added:


The following drawing shows how the electrons and holes flow within the transistor:

This is generally what happens inside a transistor when voltage is applied. The purpose of this theory is to explain how can someone use the transistor to design an amplifier or a switch, so we will not go into many details. It is enough to know this basic operation.


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