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9.1: Prelude to Electronic Properties of Materials - Superconductors and Semiconductors

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  • In Chapter 6 we developed an energy band picture for metals, starting from atomic orbitals and building up the molecular orbitals of the solid metallic crystal. This treatment gave us a useful picture of how electrons behave in metals, moving at very fast speed between scattering events, and migrating in an electric field at a slow drift velocity. It also taught us that a metal is something with a partially filled band, meaning that the Fermi level cuts through one of its bands of orbitals. An insulator or a semiconductor has a similar band picture, except that the bands are either completely full or completely empty. In this case the Fermi level lies in the gap between fully occupied and unoccupied bands. We will see in this chapter that the properties of semiconductors (along with their useful electronic applications) depend on the addition of small amounts of impurities ("dopants") that change the position of the Fermi level, resulting in conduction by electrons or "holes."

    Modern integrated circuits contain billions of nanoscale transistors and diodes that are essential for logic and memory functions. Both kinds of devices rely on junctions between crystalline silicon regions that contain a few parts per million of boron or phosphorus impurities.

    While the band picture works well for most crystalline materials, it does not tell us the whole story of conduction in solids. That is because the band model (like MO theory) is based on a one-electron model. This was an approximation we made at the very beginning of our discussion of MO theory: we used hydrogen-like (one-electron) solutions to the Schrödinger equation to give us the shapes of s, p, d, and f atomic orbitals. In a one-electron atom, these orbitals are degenerate within a given shell, and the energy differences between, e.g., 2s and 2p orbitals arise only when we consider the energy of an electron in the field of other electrons in the atom. Moving from atoms to molecules, we made linear combinations to generate one-electron molecular orbitals (and, in solids, one-electron energy bands). But as in multi-electron atoms, life is not so simple for real molecules and solids that contain many electrons. Electrons repel each other and so their movement in molecules and in solids is correlated. While this effect is weak in a "good" metal such as sodium - where the wavefunctions are highly delocalized - it can be quite important in other materials such as transition metal oxides. Correlated electron effects give rise to metal-insulator transitions that are driven by small changes in temperature, pressure, or composition, as well as to superconductivity - the passage of current with zero resistance at low temperatures. In this chapter we will develop some simple models to understand these interesting and important electronic properties of solids.

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