7.1 The MOSFET - Introduction

Table of Contents - Glossary - Study Aids -
In this Section:
  1. Basic Structure and Principle of Operation
  2. A Short History
  3. How does a MOSFET Amplify Electrical Signals?

Next 7.2 MOSFET models

7.1.1 Basic Structure and Principle of Operation

The n-type Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor Field-Effect-Transistor (MOSFET) consists of a source and a drain, two highly conducting n-type semiconductor regions which are isolated from the p-type substrate by reversed-biased p-n diodes. A metal (or poly-crystalline) gate covers the region between source and drain, but is separated from the semiconductor by the gate oxide. The basic structure of an n-type MOSFET and the corresponding circuit symbol are shown in figure 7.1.1.


As can be seen on the figure the source and drain regions are identical 1. It is the applied voltages which determine which n-type region provides the electrons and becomes the source, while the other n-type region collects the electrons and becomes the drain. The voltages applied to the drain and gate electrode as well as to the substrate by means of a back contact are refered to the source potential, as also indicated on the figure.

A top view of the same MOSFET is shown in Fig. 7.1.2, where the gate length, L, and gate width, W, are identified. Note that the gate length does not equal the physical dimension of the gate, but rather the distance between the source and drain regions underneath the gate. The overlap between the gate and the source and drain region is required to ensure that the inversion layer forms a continuous conducting path between the source and drain region. Typically this overlap is made as small as possible in order to minimize its parasitic capacitance.


The flow of electrons from the source to the drain is controlled by the voltage applied to the gate. A positive voltage applied to the gate, attracts electrons to the interface between the gate dielectric and the semiconductor. These electrons form a conducting channel between the source and the drain, called the inversion layer. No gate current is required to maintain the inversion layer at the interface since the gate oxide blocks any carrier flow. The net result is that the current between drain and source is controlled by the voltage which is applied to the gate.

The typical current versus voltage (I-V) characteristics of a MOSFET are shown in the figure below. Implemented is the quadratic model for the MOSFET.

mosfetiv.xls - mosfetiv.gif

NOTE: We will primarily discuss the n-type or n-channel MOSFET. This type of MOSFET is fabricated on a p-type semiconductor substrate. The complementary MOSFET is the p-type or p-channel MOSFET. It contains p-type source and drain regions in an n-type substrate. The inversion layer is formed when holes are attracted to the interface by a negative gate voltage. While the holes still flow from source to drain, they result in a negative drain current. CMOS circuits require both n-type and p-type devices.

7.1.2 A Short History

A conceptually similar structure was first proposed and patented by Lilienfeld and Heil2 in 1930, but was not successfully demonstrated until 1960. The main technological problem was the control and reduction of the surface states at the interface between the oxide and the semiconductor.

Initially it was only possible to deplete an existing n-type channel by applying a negative voltage to the gate. Such devices have a conducting channel between source and drain even when no gate voltage is applied and are called "depletion-mode" devices.

A reduction of the surface states enabled the fabrication of devices which do not have a conducting channel unless a positive voltage is applied. Such devices are refered to as "enhancement-mode" devices. The electrons at the oxide-semiconductor interface are concentrated in a thin (~10 nm thick) "inversion" layer. By now, most MOSFETs are "enhancement-mode" devices.

7.1.3 How does a MOSFET Amplify Electrical Signals?

While a minimum requirement for amplification of electrical signals is power gain, one finds that a device with both voltage and current gain is a highly desirable circuit element. The MOSFET provides current and voltage gain yielding an output current into an external load which exceeds the input current and an output voltage across that external load which exceeds the input voltage.

The current gain capability of a Field-Effect-Transistor (FET) is easily explained by the fact that no gate current is required to maintain the inversion layer and the resulting current between drain and source. The device has therefore an infinite current gain in DC. The current gain is inversely proportional to the signal frequency, reaching unity current gain at the transit frequency.

The voltage gain of the MOSFET is caused by the fact that the current saturates at higher drain-source voltages, so that a small drain current variation can cause a large drain voltage variation.

7. 7.2

1 Individual MOSFETs which are commercialy available in a metal can or molded plastic package frequently contain a connection between the source and the back contact so that the source and drain contact can not be readily interchanged.

2J.E. Lilienfeld, U.S. Patent 1,745,175 (1930) and O. Heil, British Patent 439,457 (1935)

Bart J. Van Zeghbroeck, 1996, 1997