Optoelectronics refers to the communication between optics and electronics, including the study, design, and manufacture of devices that convert electrical energy into light and vice versa through the use of semiconductors. Optoelectronics devices are made from solid crystalline devices which are lighter than metals but heavier than insulators. These devices can be found in optoelectronic applications such as defense, telecommunications, automatic access control systems, and medical equipment. Optoelectronic devices are classified into five types: photodiodes, solar cells, light emitting diodes (LEDs), optical fibers, and laser diodes. This blog will explain each type and its unique applications.
The first type of optoelectronic device, the photodiode, is a semiconductor light sensor that generates voltage or current when light is shone on the junction. These consist of an active P-N junction which operates in reverse bias. Photodiodes can be used in three modes: photovoltaic, where it is used as a solar cell, forward biased, where it acts as an LED, and reverse biased, where it functions as a photo detector. Photodiodes are found in many different circuits and applications including cameras, medical & safety equipment, industrial machinery, and communication devices.
A solar cell, also known as a photo-voltaic cell, is an electronic device used to convert the energy of the sun into electricity. When sunlight shines on a solar cell, the device produces a current and voltage to produce electric power. Sunlight is composed of photons which, when they hit the silicon atoms of the solar cell, transfer their energy in the form of electrons that flow to the external circuit. Solar cells are used in rural electrification, telecommunication systems, ocean navigation aids, space-based electric power generation systems, and remote monitoring & control systems.
Light emitting diodes, or LEDs, are P-N semiconductor diodes wherein the combination of electrons and holes results in the creation of a photon. When the diode is forward biased, it gives off a narrow spectrum of light. When a voltage is applied to the leads of an LED, the electrons combine with the holes within the device and emit energy in the form of photons. This effect, electroluminescence, is the conversion of electrical energy into light. LEDs are advantageous due to their ability to create light while consuming less power and generating less heat. They are widely used in areas such as indicator lights, computer components, medical devices, watches, instrument panels, switches, fiber-optic communication, consumer electronics, household appliances, and more.
An optical fiber is a transparent fiber made of plastic or glass that can function as a waveguide to transmit light between two ends of the fiber. Optical fibers usually are made of three layers: a core, cladding, and jacket. The core, a light transmitting region of the fiber, is made from silica and is the central section of the fiber. The cladding is also silica and serves as the protective layer around the core and creates an optical waveguide to limit the light in the core. Lastly, the jacket is a non-optical layer around the cladding that consists of one or more layers of a polymer that protect the silica from damage. Optical fibers are used in telecommunications, sensors, fiber lasers, bio-medicals, and more.
Finally, laser diodes are sources of monochromatic, coherent, directional light. Their operation is to convert electrical energy into light energy similar to an LED. When a voltage is applied to the diode’s P-N junction, the population inversion of the electrons is created, making the laser beam available from the semiconductor region. The ends of the P-N junction of the laser diode have a polished surface causing the emitted photons to reflect back and create more electron pairs. Laser diodes are used in fiber optic communication, optical memories, military applications, CD players, surgical procedures, Local Area Networks, long distance communications, and more.
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