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Encyclopedia > Zener diode
Zener diode schematic symbol
Zener diode schematic symbol

A Zener diode is a type of diode that permits current to flow in the forward direction like a normal diode, but also in the reverse direction if the voltage is larger (not equal to, but larger) than the rated breakdown voltage known as "Zener knee voltage" or "Zener voltage". Image File history File links Zener_diode_symbol. ... Image File history File links Zener_diode_symbol. ... Types of diodes closeup, showing germanium crystal In electronics, a diode is a component that restricts the direction of movement of charge carriers. ... Electric current is by definition the flow of electric charge. ...

A conventional solid-state diode will not let significant current flow if it is reverse-biased below its reverse breakdown voltage. By exceeding the reverse bias breakdown voltage, a conventional diode is subject to high current flow due to avalanche breakdown. Unless this current is limited by external circuitry, the diode will be permanently damaged. In case of large forward bias (current flow in the direction of the arrow), the diode exhibits a voltage drop due to its junction built-in voltage and internal resistance. The amount of the voltage drop depends on the semiconductor material and the doping concentrations. Types of diodes closeup, showing germanium crystal In electronics, a diode is a component that restricts the direction of movement of charge carriers. ... Avalanche breakdown is a phenomenon that can occur in both insulating and semiconducting materials. ...

A Zener diode exhibits almost the same properties, except the device is especially designed so as to have a greatly reduced breakdown voltage, the so-called Zener voltage. A Zener diode contains a heavily doped p-n junction allowing electrons to tunnel from the valence band of the p-type material to the conduction band of the n-type material. In the atomic model, this tunneling corresponds to the ionization of covalent bonds. The Zener effect was discovered by the American physicist Clarence Melvin Zener. A reverse-biased Zener diode will exhibit a controlled breakdown and let the current flow to keep the voltage across the Zener diode at the Zener voltage. For example, a diode with a Zener breakdown voltage of 3.2 V will exhibit a voltage drop of 3.2 V if reverse bias voltage applied across it is more than its Zener voltage. However, the current is not unlimited, so the Zener diode is typically used to generate a reference voltage for an amplifier stage, or as a voltage stabilizer for low-current applications. In semiconductor production, doping refers to the process of intentionally introducing impurities into an extremely pure (also referred to as intrinsic) semiconductor in order to change its electrical properties. ... e- redirects here. ... Quantum tunneling is the quantum-mechanical effect of transitioning through a classically-forbidden energy state. ... Ionization is the physical process of converting an atom or molecule into an ion by changing the difference between the number of protons and electrons. ... Covalent bonding is a form of chemical bonding that is characterized by the sharing of pairs of electrons between atoms. ... Clarence Melvin Zener (December 1, 1905 _ July 15, 1993) was the American physicist who first described the electrical property exploited by the Zener diode, which Bell Labs then named after him. ... Generally, an amplifier is any device that uses a small amount of energy to control a larger amount of energy. ...

The breakdown voltage can be controlled quite accurately in the doping process. Tolerances to within 0.05% are available though the most widely used tolerances are 5% and 10%.

Another mechanism that produces a similar effect is the avalanche effect as in the avalanche diode. The two types of diode are in fact constructed the same way and both effects are present in diodes of this type. In silicon diodes up to about 5.6 volts, the zener effect is the predominant effect and shows a marked negative temperature coefficient. Above 5.6 volts, the avalanche effect becomes predominant and exhibits a positive temperature coefficient. An avalanche diode is a diode (usually made from silicon, but can be made from another semiconductor) that is designed to break down and conduct at a specified reverse bias voltage. ... The temperature coefficient is the relative change of a physical property when the temperature is changed by 1 K (kelvin). ... This article is about cryptography; for other meanings, see snowball effect. ...

In a 5.6 V diode, the two effects occur together and their temperature coefficients neatly cancel each other out, thus the 5.6 V diode is the part of choice in temperature critical applications.

Modern manufacturing techniques have produced devices with voltages lower than 5.6 V with negligible temperature coefficients, but as higher voltage devices are encountered, the temperature coefficient rises dramatically. A 75 V diode has 10 times the coefficient of a 12 V diode.

All such diodes, regardless of breakdown voltage, are usually marketed under the umbrella term of 'zener diode'.


Zener diodes are widely used to regulate the voltage across a circuit. When connected in parallel with a variable voltage source so that it is reverse biased, a zener diode conducts when the voltage reaches the diode's reverse breakdown voltage. From that point it keeps the voltage at that value.

In the circuit shown, resistor R provides the voltage drop between UIN and UOUT. The value of R must satisfy two conditions: Image File history File links Zener_diode_voltage_regulator. ...

  1. R must be small enough that the current through D keeps D in reverse breakdown. The value of this current is given in the data sheet for D. For example, the common BZX79C5V6[1] device, a 5.6 V 0.5 W zener diode, has a recommended reverse current of 5 mA. If insufficient current flows through D, then UOUT will be unregulated, and less than the nominal breakdown voltage (this differs to voltage regulator tubes where the output voltage will be higher then nominal and could rise as high as UIN). When calculating R, allowance must be made for any current flowing through the external load, not shown in this diagram, connected across UOUT.
  2. R must be large enough that the current through D does not destroy the device. If the current through D is ID, its breakdown voltage VB and its maximum power dissipation PMAX, then IDVB < PMAX.

A zener diode used in this way is known as a shunt voltage regulator (shunt, in this context, meaning connected in parallel, and voltage regulator being a class of circuit that produces a stable voltage across any load). A voltage regulator tube (VR tube) is an electronic component used as a shunt regulator to hold a voltage constant at a pre-determined level. ... In electricity, a shunt is a device which allows electrical current to pass around another point in the circuit. ... A voltage regulator is an electrical regulator designed to automatically maintain a constant voltage level. ...

These devices are also encountered, typically in series with a base/emitter junction, in transistor stages where selective choice of a device centred around the avalanchezener point can be used to introduce compensating temperature co-efficient balancing of the transistor PN junction. An example of this kind of use would be a d.c. error amplifier used in a stabilized power supply circuit feedback loop system. Categories: Possible copyright violations ... A stabilized power supply, sometimes know as a regulated power supply, is an embedded circuit, or stand alone unit, the function of which is to supply a stable current, or more commonly voltage, to a circuit or device that must be operated within certain power supply limitations. ...

See also

An avalanche diode is a diode (usually made from silicon, but can be made from another semiconductor) that is designed to break down and conduct at a specified reverse bias voltage. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with Linear regulator. ... A voltage regulator tube (VR tube) is an electronic component used as a shunt regulator to hold a voltage constant at a pre-determined level. ...


  1. ^ BZX79C5V6 data sheet, Fairchild Semiconductor

  Results from FactBites:
Zener effect and Zener diodes (171 words)
The breakdown process depends upon the applied electric field, so by changing the thickness of the layer to which the voltage is applied, zener diodes can be formed which break down at voltages from about 4 volts to several hundred volts.
The zener diode uses a p-n junction in reverse bias to make use of the zener effect, which is a breakdown phenomenon which holds the voltage close to a constant value called the zener voltage.
It is useful in zener regulators to provide a more constant voltage, for improvement of regulated power supplies, and for limiter applications.
Zener Diode Tutorial (200 words)
Notice that as the reverse voltage is increased the leakage current remains essentially constant until the breakdown voltage is reached where the current increases dramatically.
This breakdown voltage is the zener voltage for zener diodes.
While for the conventional rectifier or diode it is imperative to operate below this voltage; the zener diode is intended to operate at that voltage, and so finds its greatest application as a voltage regulator.
  More results at FactBites »



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