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In electronics, a diode is a two-terminal electronic component that conducts electric current in only one direction. The term usually refers to a semiconductor diode, the most common type today. This is a crystalline piece of semiconductor material connected to two electrical terminals.[1] A vacuum tube diode (now little used except in some high-power technologies) is a vacuum tube with two electrodes: a plate and a cathode.

The most common function of a diode is to allow an electric current to pass in one direction (called the diode's forward direction) while blocking current in the opposite direction (the reverse direction). Thus, the diode can be thought of as an electronic version of a check valve. This unidirectional behavior is called rectification, and is used to convert alternating current to direct current, and to extract modulation from radio signals in radio receivers.

However, diodes can have more complicated behavior than this simple on-off action. This is due to their complex non-linear electrical characteristics, which can be tailored by varying the construction of their P-N junction. These are exploited in special purpose diodes that perform many different functions. For example, specialized diodes are used to regulate voltage (Zener diodes), to electronically tune radio and TV receivers (varactor diodes), to generate radio frequency oscillations (tunnel diodes), and to produce light (light emitting diodes). Tunnel diodes exhibit negative resistance, which makes them useful in some types of circuits.

Diodes were the first semiconductor electronic devices. The discovery of crystals' rectifying abilities was made by German physicist Ferdinand Braun in 1874. The first semiconductor diodes, called cat's whisker diodes, developed around 1906, were made of mineral crystals such as galena. Today most diodes are made of silicon, but other semiconductors such as germanium are sometimes used.[2]


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