Semiconductors are a group of materials classified according to their electrical conductivity
properties. Other classifications are conductors
. In their pure form, semiconductors are known as 'intrinsic
'. The addition of certain foreign material, (known as a dopant
), can create an extrinsic semiconductor
. Introduction of a dopant material
creates an excess of either electrons
', (depends on valence
materials), within the material thereby increasing the material's conductivity
In terms of energy bands of electrons, semiconductors are characterised by the size of the band gap between their valence and conduction bands. Put simply, this gap is the amount of thermal energy an electron requires to jump from the lower energy valence band to the higher energy conduction band in a material. Electrons in the conduction band are free to move within the material, thus contributing the conduction of electricity through the material. The size of the energy gap varies from material to material. An insulator is a material with a large band gap, with consequently fewer electrons in its conduction band. A conductor, on the other hand, has no band gap so electrons are free to move in and out of the conduction band and the material is therefore highly conductive.
Here's an interesting characteristic of semiconducting materials: As you heat up an intrinsic semiconductor, more electrons are able to jump the gap to the conduction band and the conductivity of the material increases. On the other hand, increasing the temperature of an extrinsic semiconductor causes a decrease in conductivity because the effect of the increase in number of electrons inhabiting the conduction band is outweighed by the reduction in conductivity caused by increased vibration of the material's crystal lattice. The latter is the same mechanism which causes the conductivity of conductor materials, such as metals, to decrease with increasing temperature.