The major difference between conductors, semiconductors, and insulators is that they all have varying levels of conductivity. Conductors are defined by their high conductivity, meaning that they allow energy like electricity, heat, or sound, to flow through them with ease. Semiconductors, on the other hand, enable moderate flow, and insulators exhibit low conductivity. While conductivity serves as the principal difference between conductors, semiconductors, and insulators, there are a few other differences as well. As such, this blog will consider their uses, features, and types.
To better understand conductors, semiconductors, and insulators, we must first outline band theory. Band theory utilizes the “band” of material to explain the physical properties of conduction. In more technical terms, electrons orbit an atom’s positive nucleus within permitted levels of energy. In many atoms, energy levels separate into two bands: valence and conduction bands. The valence band is the lower level of electrons, and the conduction band is the higher level. It is worth nothing that an energy gap exists between the bands where electrons cannot exist. When conduction takes place, the clearance between bands allows the electrons to move freely.
With the proper application of voltage, conductors enable the flow of an electron from one atom to another. This is due to the fact that no band gaps exist between the valence and conduction bands. In some materials, the conductor and valence bands overlap, meaning that electrons can move between them. Silver is generally the best electrical conductor, with others like gold, aluminum, and brass serving as good secondary options. These materials can be found in electrical equipment in the form of wire or etched-on circuit boards. Conductors are available as solids, but some liquid metals such as mercury are also on the market. Some materials may even be classified as superconductors, those of which can conduct without resistance in extremely low temperatures.
A semiconductor possesses a conductivity value that falls between that of a conductor and an insulator. As its temperature rises, the resistance of the semiconductor falls. Some examples of commonly used semiconductor elements include silicon, germanium, selenium, gallium arsenide, and indium antimonide. The gap between the valence and conduction bands in semiconductors is small enough to permit the movement of electrons at room temperature, allowing some conduction. It is important to note that a rise in temperature increases the conductivity as more electrons will have more energy to move into the conduction band.
Insulators prevent the movement of electricity, heat, or sound between two objects. For instance, thermal insulators reduce the transfer of heat between two objects with different temperatures. They can achieve this by reflecting thermal energy, and a substance that lacks the ability to conduct electricity is called a dielectric material. If these substances are polarized by an electric field, electric charges do not flow through them like they would in a conductor. In insulators, the conduction and valence bands have large gaps between them,
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