Conductor vs. Semiconductor

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Difference between Conductor and Semiconductor

Conductors…semiconductors…what's in a name? Quite a lot actually, and as it turns out, semiconductors are only one type of conductors. This comparison article delves into the most significant aspects of each.

Conductor
Semiconductor

Definition

Conductors are objects comprised of movable electric charges. Particularly useful in physics and electrical engineering, most conductors are metallic elements such as copper and aluminum, and they contain movable charged particles called electrons. The positive charges passed by conductors are typically mobile atoms that are present in a lattice, and have missing electrons called holes. They may also exist as ions, as in the case of electrolytes found in batteries. Conductors are often used with insulators, which are simply non-conducting materials that resist electric current flow.

Semiconductors are materials that conduct electricity by way of electron flow, in contrast to certain types of conductors that rely on ionic flow. These materials are actually right in the middle of conductors and insulators in terms of ability to conduct electricity. Semiconductors typically have a conductivity range of 103 to 10−8 siemens per centimeter, and are often used in modern electronic devices such as radios, computers, and telephones. These devices are typically comprised of transistors, solar cells, different types of diodes (of which light-emitting diodes or LEDs are the most common), silicon controlled rectifiers, and integrated circuits, which may be digital or analog, or a combination of both.

Properties

All conductors–and semiconductors to a lesser degree–have the ability to hold electric charges that move when electric potential differences as measured in volts are applied to two different points on the material. Measured in amperes, this electricity flow is what is commonly known as “electric current”. In most conductors and semiconductors, the direct current is equivalent to the voltage according to Ohm's law. This is subject to certain factors, such as the constancy of temperature and shape and state of the material in question.

Materials

Most conductors commonly used in industry are metal. The most common material used for electrical wiring for example is copper. Silver is actually a better conductor than copper, but its high cost curtails its use as electrical wiring material. Gold is another excellent conductor, because of its ability to resist corrosion. This is why gold is commonly used in high-quality surface-to-surface contacts. It is also important to note that there are many non-metallic conductors in existence, among them graphite, certain salt solutions, and all types of plasmas.

The most commonly used material in semiconductors is silicon. Materials such as germanium, gallium arsenide, and silicon carbide are also often used in semiconductors.

Similarities and Differences

Conductor

  • Objects comprised of movable electric charges
  • Most are metallic elements such as copper and aluminum
  • Most common conductor material used for electrical wiring is copper

Semiconductor

  • Materials that conduct electricity by way of electron flow
  • Typically have a conductivity range of 103 to 10−8 siemens per centimeter
  • Used in modern electronic devices such as radios, computers, and telephones

Water qualifies as which one?
  • Conductor
  • Semiconductor
 
 

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