In general, semiconductors are materials, inorganic or organic, which have the ability to control their conduction depending on chemical structure, temperature, illumination, and presence of dopants. The name semiconductor comes from the fact that these materials have an electrical conductivity between that of a metal, like copper, gold, etc. and an insulator, such as glass. They have an energy gap less than 4eV (about 1eV). In solid-state physics, this energy gap or band gap is an energy range between valence band and conduction band where electron states are forbidden. In contrast to conductors, electrons in a semiconductor must obtain energy (e.g. from ionizing radiation) to cross the band gap and to reach the conduction band. Properties of semiconductors are determined by the energy gap between valence and conduction bands.
The P-N Junction – Reverse Biased Junction
The semiconductor detector operates much better as a radiation detector if an external voltage is applied across the junction in the reverse biased direction. The depletion region will function as a radiation detector. Improvement can be reached by use of a reverse-bias voltage to the P-N junction to deplete the detector of free carriers, which is the principle of the most semiconductor detectors. Reverse biasing a junction increases the thickness of the depletion region because the potential difference across the junction is enhanced. Germanium detectors have a p-i-n structure in which the intrinsic (i) region is sensitive to ionizing radiation, particularly X rays and gamma rays. Under reverse bias, an electric field extends across the intrinsic or depleted region. In this case, negative voltage is applied to the p-side and positive to the second one. Holes in the p-region are attracted from the junction towards the p contact and similarly for electrons and the n contact. This charge, which is in proportion to the energy deposited in the detector by the incoming photon, is converted into a voltage pulse by an integral charge sensitive preamplifier.
See also: Germanium Detectors, MIRION Technologies. <available from: https://www.mirion.com/products/germanium-detectors>.