# 13.2 Active circuit elements  (Page 5/7)

 Page 5 / 7

Summing up, in an NPN transistor, a small flow of electrons from emitter (E) to base (B) allows a much larger flow of electrons from emitter (E) to collector (C). Given that conventional current (flowing from $+$ to $-$ ) is in the opposite direction to electron flow, we say that a small conventional current from base to emitter allows a large current to flow from collector to emitter.

A PNP transistor works the other way. A small conventional current from emitter to base allows a much larger conventional current to flow from emitter to collector. The operation is more complicated to explain since the principal charge carrier in a PNP transistor is not the electron but the `hole'.

The operation of NPN and PNP transistors (in terms of conventional currents) is summarized in [link] .

## Interesting fact

The transistor is considered by many to be one of the greatest discoveries or inventions in modern history, ranking with banking and the printing press. Key to the importance of the transistor in modern society is its ability to be produced in huge numbers using simple techniques, resulting in vanishingly small prices. Computer “chips” consist of millions of transistors and sell for Rands, with per-transistor costs in the thousandths-of-cents. The low cost has meant that the transistor has become an almost universal tool for non-mechanical tasks. Whereas a common device, say a refrigerator, would have used a mechanical device for control, today it is often less expensive to simply use a few million transistors and the appropriate computer program to carry out the same task through "brute force". Today transistors have replaced almost all electromechanical devices, most simple feedback systems, and appear in huge numbers in everything from computers to cars.

## Interesting fact

The transistor was invented at Bell Laboratories in December 1947 (first demonstrated on December 23) by John Bardeen, Walter Houser Brattain, and William Bradford Shockley, who were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1956.

## The field effect transistor (fet)

To control a bipolar transistor, you control the current flowing into or out of its base. The other type of transistor is the field effect transistor (FET). FETs work using control voltages instead. Accordingly they can be controlled with much smaller currents and are much more economic to use.

## Interesting fact

No-one would build a computer with billions of bipolar transistors — the current in each transistor's base might be small, but when you add up all of the base currents in the millions of transistors, the computer as a whole would be consuming a great deal of electricity and making a great deal of heat. Not only is this wasteful, it would prevent manufacturers making a computer of convenient size. If the transistors were too close together, they would overheat.

A field effect transistor (FET). The diagram on the top shows the semiconductor structure. The diagram underneath shows its circuit symbol.

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