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A photodiode is a type of photodetector capable of converting light into either current or voltage, depending upon the mode of operation.[1]

Photodiodes are similar to regular semiconductor diodes except that they may be either exposed (to detect vacuum UV or X-rays) or packaged with a window or optical fiber connection to allow light to reach the sensitive part of the device. Many diodes designed for use specifically as a photodiode will also use a PIN junction rather than the typical PN junction.


Principle of operation

A photodiode is a PN junction or PIN structure. When a photon of sufficient energy strikes the diode, it excites an electron, thereby creating a free electron and a (positively charged electron) hole. If the absorption occurs in the junction's depletion region, or one diffusion length away from it, these carriers are swept from the junction by the built-in field of the depletion region. Thus holes move toward the anode, and electrons toward the cathode, and a photocurrent is produced.

Photovoltaic mode

When used in zero bias or photovoltaic mode, the flow of photocurrent out of the device is restricted and a voltage builds up. The diode becomes forward biased and "dark current" begins to flow across the junction in the direction opposite to the photocurrent. This mode is responsible for the photovoltaic effect, which is the basis for solar cells – in fact, a traditional solar cell is just a large area photodiode.

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