Chapter 5: Bipolar Junction Transistors

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5.1. Introduction

The bipolar junction transistor (BJT) was the first solid-state amplifier element and started the solid-state electronics revolution. Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley, while at Bell Laboratories, invented it in 1948 as part of a post-war effort to replace vacuum tubes with solid-state devices. Solid-state rectifiers were already in use at the time and were preferred over vacuum diodes because of their smaller size, lower weight and higher reliability. A solid-state replacement for a vacuum triode was expected to yield similar advantages. The work at Bell Laboratories was highly successful and culminated in Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley receiving the Nobel Prize in 1956.

Their work led them first to the point-contact transistor and then to the bipolar junction transistor. They used germanium as the semiconductor of choice because it was possible to obtain high purity material. The extraordinarily large diffusion length of minority carriers in germanium provided functional structures despite the large dimensions of the early devices.

Since then, the technology has progressed rapidly. The development of a planar process yielded the first circuits on a chip and for a decade, bipolar transistor operational amplifiers, like the 741, and digital TTL circuits were for a long time the workhorses of any circuit designer.

The spectacular rise of the MOSFET market share during the last decade has completely removed the bipolar transistor from center stage. Almost all logic circuits, microprocessor and memory chips contain exclusively MOSFETs.

Nevertheless, bipolar transistors remain important devices for ultra-high-speed discrete logic circuits such as emitter coupled logic (ECL), power-switching applications and in microwave power amplifiers. Heterojunction bipolar transistors (HBTs) have emerged as the device of choice for cell phone amplifiers and other demanding applications.

In this chapter we first present the structure of the bipolar transistor and show how a three-layer structure with alternating n-type and p-type regions can provide current and voltage amplification. We then present the ideal transistor model and derive an expression for the current gain in the forward active mode of operation. Next, we discuss the non-ideal effects, the modulation of the base width and recombination in the depletion region of the base-emitter junction. A discussion of transit time effects, BJT circuit models, HBTs, BJT technology and bipolar power devices completes this chapter.

Boulder, December 2004