Gunn Diode / Transferred Electron Device - Tutorial

- summary or tutorial giving information about the basics of the Gunn diode or transferred electron device, TED found in many microwave applications.

Gunn diodes are also known as transferred electron devices, TED, are widely used in microwave RF applications for frequencies between 1 and 100 GHz.

The Gunn diode is most commonly used for generating microwave RF signals - these circuits may also be called a transferred electron oscillator or TEO. The Gunn diode may also be used for an amplifier in what may be known as a transferred electron amplifier or TEA.

As Gunn diodes are easy to use, they form a relatively low cost method for generating microwave RF signals.

Gunn diode basics

The Gunn diode is a unique component - even though it is called a diode, it does not contain a PN diode junction. The Gunn diode or transferred electron device can be termed a diode because it does have two electrodes. It depends upon the bulk material properties rather than that of a PN junction. The Gunn diode operation depends on the fact that it has a voltage controlled negative resistance.

The mechanism behind the transferred electron effect was first published by Ridley and Watkins in a paper in 1961. Further work was published by Hilsum in 1962, and then in 1963 John Battiscombe (J. B.) Gunn independently observed the first transferred electron oscillation using Gallium Arsenide, GaAs semiconductor.

Gunn diode symbol for circuit diagrams

The Gunn diode symbol used in circuit diagrams varies. Often a standard diode is seen in the diagram, however this form of Gunn diode symbol does not indicate the fact that the Gunn diode is not a PN junction. Instead another symbol showing two filled in triangles with points touching is used as shown below.

Gunn diode symbol as used in circuit diagrams
Gunn diode symbol

Gunn diode construction

Gunn diodes are fabricated from a single piece of n-type semiconductor. The most common materials are gallium Arsenide, GaAs and Indium Phosphide, InP. However other materials including Ge, CdTe, InAs, InSb, ZnSe and others have been used. The device is simply an n-type bar with n+ contacts. It is necessary to use n-type material because the transferred electron effect is only applicable to electrons and not holes found in a p-type material.

Within the device there are three main areas, which can be roughly termed the top, middle and bottom areas.

A discrete Gunn diode with the active layer mounted
onto a heatsink for efficient heat transfer

The most common method of manufacturing a Gunn diode is to grow and epitaxial layer on a degenerate n+ substrate. The active region is between a few microns and a few hundred micron thick. This active layer has a doping level between 1014cm-3 and 1016cm-3 - this is considerably less than that used for the top and bottom areas of the device. The thickness will vary according to the frequency required.

The top n+ layer can be deposited epitaxially or doped using ion implantation. Both top and bottom areas of the device are heavily doped to give n+ material. This provides the required high conductivity areas that are needed for the connections to the device.

Devices are normally mounted on a conducting base to which a wire connection is made. The base also acts as a heat sink which is critical for the removal of heat. The connection to the other terminal of the diode is made via a gold connection deposited onto the top surface. Gold is required because of its relative stability and high conductivity.

During manufacture there are a number of mandatory requirements for the devices to be successful - the material must be defect free and it must also have a very uniform level of doping.

By Ian Poole

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