October 1966 QST
articles are scanned and OCRed from old editions of the ARRL's QST magazine. Here is a list
of the QST articles I have already posted. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
concept of a field effect transistor (FET) has been around in theory
for a long time*, but manufacturable devices arrived in designers' labs
not until the early 1960s. This article from the October 1966 edition
of QST magazine gives a good introduction to the physics of a basic
FET as well as the junction FET (JFET) and the insulated gate FET (IGFET),
all of which are still in widespread use today. What you learn about
them here is applicable today. In fact, I swear some of the drawings
are the same ones that appeared in my college semiconductor physics
text books (admittedly from the late 1980s, so not too much of a surprise).
Wikipedia, "The field-effect transistor was first patented by Julius
Edgar Lilienfeld in 1926 and by Oskar Heil in 1934, but practical semi-conducting
devices (the JFET) were only developed much later after the transistor
effect was observed and explained by the team of William Shockley at
Bell Labs in 1947. The MOSFET, which largely superseded the JFET and
had a more profound effect on electronic development, was first proposed
by Dawon Kahng in 1960."
See all available
vintage QST articles
What They Are-How They Work
By Jim George,
The field-effect transistor, for the last few years a tantalizing
promise of better things in semiconductor devices, is now rapidly
coming into the market at prices attractive to amateurs. We've already
shown you one application in Walt Lange's audio oscillator (July
QST). Here's the background story of the FET - how it's made and
how it functions, and why it will be superior to older transistor
types in many applications.
A recently introduced semiconductor device called the field-effect
transistor, or FET for short, combines some of the best features of
both the vacuum tube and the transistor. The FET is appearing in new
electronic circuits of all types and will soon be used in amateur radio
equipment. A great deal of excitement centers about this solid-state
device which acts much like a vacuum tube, and it is the purpose of
this article to describe its construction and operation.
getting into device characteristics, let us quickly review some basic
concepts in semiconductors. Useful semiconductor material is either
p-type, where holes (a hole is actually a place where there is no electron)
are concentrated relatively heavily, or n-type which features an excess
of free electrons. Both the holes and free electrons are the current
carriers in a piece of semiconductor, just as free electrons only are
the current carriers in a piece of copper. As a memory aid, remember
that the "p" in p-type material stands for the positive charge of the
current carriers (holes) and the "n" stands for the negative charge
of the current carriers (free electrons) in n-type semiconductor material.
When p-type material and n-type material are brought together, a p-n
junction is formed as shown in Fig. 1A.
The Junction Diode
Fig. 1 - Action of p-n junction when bias is applied.
Fig. 2 - Reverse bias causes electrons and holes to move away from
the p-n junction, leaving a depletion region (shaded area) and no
Fig. 3 - The junction field-effect transistor (JFET).
Fig. 4 - Operation of the JFET under applied bias. A depletion region
(light shading) is formed, compressing the channel and increasing
its resistance to current flow.
Fig. 5 - The insulated-gate field-effect transistor (IGFET).
The resulting action
of a p-n junction is well known. When a forward bias is applied as shown
in Fig. 1B, a large current will flow. The total current is made up
of the electron current plus the hole current. When reverse bias (Fig.
1C) i applied, only a small reverse current flows - the p-n junction
acts as a diode. It is important to note the reverse-bias case. We know
that when a voltage is applied to a resistive network, this voltage
is dissipated by IR drops until the applied voltage is "used up" by
the sum total of all the voltage drops. The same principle applies to
the case of the reverse-biased p-n junction diode. We have applied V
volts of reverse bias and this voltage must be used up somehow in our
circuit, the p-n junction. The resulting action is shown in Fig. 2,
where charges are separated in a region close to the junction. Enough
charges are moved until the electric field across the junction produces
a voltage drop which is approximately equal to our applied voltage.
The important point here is that the region around the p-n junction
is now depleted of all its holes and free electrons, thus there are
no current carriers available. This region is commonly called the "depletion
region" and it sounds reasonable that its thickness depends on the magnitude
of reverse voltage which is applied. It will be an important point in
the operation of field-effect transistors that no current can flow in
the depletion region since there are no current carriers in that region.
The Junction FET (JFET)
transistors are divided into two main groups: junction FETs, and insulated-gate
FETs. We will discuss the Junction FET, or JFET, first. The basic JFET
device is shown in Fig. 3.
First of all, note the location of
the terminals where voltages can be applied. The reason for the terminal
names will become clear later. A d.c. operating condition is set up
by starting a current flow between source and drain. This current flow
is made up of free electrons since the semiconductor is n-type in the
channel, so a positive voltage is applied at the drain. This positive
voltage attracts the negatively-charged free electrons and the current
flows (Fig. 4A). The next step is to apply a gate voltage of the polarity
shown in Fig. 4B. Note that this reverse-biases the gates with respect
to the source, channel, and drain. This reverse-bias gate voltage causes
a depletion layer to be formed which takes up part of the channel, and
since the electrons now have less volume in which to move the resistance
is greater and the current between source and drain is reduced. If we
apply a large gate voltage, we cause the depletion regions to meet,
and in this case the source-drain current is reduced nearly to zero.
Since we changed the large source-drain current with a relatively small
gate-voltage, we have a device which acts as an amplifier.
note that in the operation of the JFET, the gate terminal is never forward
biased, because if it were the source-drain current would all be diverted
through the forward-biased gate junction diode.
between the gate terminal and the rest of the device is very high, since
the gate terminal is always reverse biased, so the JFET has a very high
input resistance. The source terminal is the source of current carriers,
and they are drained out of the circuit at the drain. The gate opens
and closes the amount of channel current which flows. It is seen how
the operation of a FET closely resembles the operation of the vacuum
tube with its high grid input impedance. Comparing the JFET to a vacuum
tube, the source corresponds to the cathode, the gate to the grid, and
the drain to the plate. Insulated-Gate FET (IGFET)
The other large family which makes up field-effect transistors
is the insulated-gate field-effect transistor, or IGFET, which is pictured
schematically in Fig. 5. In order to set up a d.c. operating condition,
a positive polarity is applied to the drain terminal. The substrate
is connected to the source, and both are at ground potential, so the
channel electrons are attracted to the positive drain and we now have
a d.c. source-drain current. In order to regulate this current, we apply
voltage to the gate contact. Note that the gate is insulated from the
rest of the device by a piece of insulating glass so this is not a p-n
junction between the gate and the device - thus the name insulated gate.
When a negative gate polarity is applied, positively-charged holes from
the p-type substrate are attracted towards the gate and the conducting
channel is made more narrow; thus the source-drain current is reduced.
When we connect a positive gate voltage, the holes in the substrate
are repelled away, the conducting channel is made larger, and the source-drain
current is increased. As can be seen, the IGFET is more flexible since
we can apply either a positive or negative voltage to the gate. The
resistance between the gate and the rest of the device is extremely
high because they are separated by a layer of glass - not as clear as
your window glass, but it conducts just as poorly. Thus the IGFET has
an extremely high input impedance. In fact, since the leakage through
the insulating glass is generally much smaller than through the reverse-biased
p-n gate junction in the JFET, the IGFET has a much higher input impedance.
Typical values of Rin
for the IGFET are over a million megohms,
for the JFET ranges from megohms to over a thousand
Fig. 6 - Typical
JFET characteristic curves.
Fig. 7 - Typical IGFET characteristic
Fig. 8 - Typical
vacuum-tube characteristic curves.
Fig. 9 - Symbols for most-commonly available field-effect transistors.
Fig. 10 - Typical JFET crystal-oscillator circuit.
The characteristic curves for the FETs described above are shown in
Figs. 6 and 7, where drain-source current is plotted against drain-source
voltage for given values of the gate voltage. Note the similarity to
the family of a vacuum-tube pentode as shown in Fig. 8, where plate
current is plotted against plate voltage for varying amounts of grid
In discussing the JFET so far we have left both gates
separate so the device can be used as a tetrode in mixer applications.
However, the gates can be internally connected for triode applications.
When using the IGFET the substrate is always a.c.-shorted to the source,
and only the insulated gate is used to control the current flow. This
is done so that both positive and negative polarities can be applied
to the device, as opposed to JFET operation where only one polarity
can be used, because if the gate itself becomes forward biased the unit
is no longer useful. Classifications
Field-effect transistors are classed in to two main grouping for
application in circuits, enhancement mode and depletion mode. The enhancement-mode
devices are those specifically constructed so that they have no channel.
They become useful only when we apply a gate voltage which causes a
channel to be formed. IGFETs can be used as enhancement-mode devices
since both polarities can be applied to the gate without the gate becoming
forward biased and conducting current.
A depletion-mode unit
corresponds to Figs. 3 and 5 shown earlier, where a channel exists with
no gate voltage applied. For the JFET we can apply a gate voltage and
deplete the channel, causing the current to decrease. With the IGFET
we can apply a gate voltage of either polarity so the device can be
depleted (current decreased) or enhanced (current increased).
To Slim up, a depletion-mode FET is one which has a channel constructed;
thus it has a current flow for zero gate voltage. Enhancement-mode FETs
are those which have no channel, so no current flows with zero gate
voltage . The latter type devices are especially useful in logic application.
Circuit symbols approved for FETs are shown in Fig. 9. Both
depletion-mode and enhancement-mode devices are illustrated.
Some applications for FETs
are shown in Figs. 10 and 11. In Fig. 10 a JFET oscillator is pictured,
and a versatile FET d.c. voltmeter (FETVM) is shown in Fig. 11.
The voltmeter features two Motorola 2N4221 JFETs and offers the
high input impedance (22 megohms on all ranges in Fig. 11) of a v.t.v.m,
but with more stability. The circuit is essentially a differential amplifier
which works on the principle that the current through a resistance is
directly proportional to the difference between the voltages at its
ends. When R1
are adjusted so that the
voltage at the emitter of Q2
is equal to the voltage at the
emitter of Q3
, with no input signal, the voltage difference
is zero and no current will flow through the meter.
Fig. 11 - D.C. voltmeter circuit using
field-effect transistor. Resistances are
in ohms (K = 1000); fixed
resistors are 1/2 watt. The second
position of S3
is used for checking battery voltage.
1 section, 1 pole,7 positions.
R2 R3-Linear controls (R2 and R3
are panel adjustments; R1 can be internal).
inc.-Trimming potentiometers, for internal mounting
(Mallory MTC or equivalent).
When the voltage
at the gate, G, of Q1
is raised to 0.3 volt the voltage across
the meter circuit also is approximately 0.3 volt since the source followers
and emitter followers have a voltage gain of approximately one. R3
is then adjusted to give full-scale meter deflection. The calibration
inclusive, are individually adjusted
for exactly full-scale deflection on each range when the maximum voltage
for that range is applied to the input terminals through the range switch,
.An accurate voltmeter should be used to check the applied
voltage when setting the calibration resistors.
These two circuits
were furnished by Don Wollesen and Walter Birks of the Applications
Engineering Group at Motorola Semiconductor Products Division.
This article has provided a basic look into the FET and some of
its applications. In general, the FET offers much improved noise performance,
stability, and cross-modulation resistance over either vacuum tubes
or standard transistors (p-n-p, n-p-n). Its many features, such as high
input impedance and desirable high-frequency performance, insure its
design into a vast number of electronic circuits in the near future.
It is probably the most recent radical improvement in device design,
and should prove most interesting to amateur radio operators everywhere,
allowing them greatly improved freedom in circuit design.
* c/o Motorola Semiconductor Products,
Inc., 5005 East McDowell Road, Phoenix, Ariz. 85008