A PIN diode is a diode with a wide, lightly doped 'near' intrinsic semiconductor region between a p-type semiconductor and an n-type semiconductor region. The p-type and n-type regions are typically heavily doped because they are used for ohmic contacts.
The wide intrinsic region is in contrast to an ordinary PN diode. The wide intrinsic region makes the PIN diode an inferior rectifier (the normal function of a diode), but it makes the PIN diode suitable for attenuators, fast switches, photodetectors, and high voltage power electronics applications.
A PIN diode operates under what is known as high-level injection. In other words, the intrinsic "i" region is flooded with charge carriers from the "p" and "n" regions. Its function can be likened to filling up a water bucket with a hole on the side. Once the water reaches the hole's level it will begin to pour out. Similarly, the diode will conduct current once the flooded electrons and holes reach an equilibrium point, where the number of electrons is equal to the number of holes in the intrinsic region. When the diode is forward biased, the injected carrier concentration is typically several orders of magnitudes higher than the intrinsic level carrier concentration. Due to this high level injection, which in turn is due to the depletion process, the electric field extends deeply (almost the entire length) into the region. This electric field helps in speeding up of the transport of charge carriers from p to n region, which results in faster operation of the diode, making it a suitable device for high frequency operations.
A PIN diode obeys the standard diode equation for low frequency signals. At higher frequencies, the diode looks like an almost perfect (very linear, even for large signals) resistor. There is a lot of stored charge in the intrinsic region. At low frequencies, the charge can be removed and the diode turns off. At higher frequencies, there is not enough time to remove the charge, so the diode never turns off. The PIN diode has a poor reverse recovery time.
The high-frequency resistance is inversely proportional to the DC bias current through the diode. A PIN diode, suitably biased, therefore acts as a variable resistor. This high-frequency resistance may vary over a wide range (from 0.1 ohm to 10 kΩ in some cases; the useful range is smaller, though).
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