Semiconductors are materials that can partially conduct electrical current. Most have impurities added to them that change the balance of their electrons and make them more conductive. A diode is the simplest example of a semiconductor. When a current is applied to a diode, its flow generates light. A light emitting diode, or LED, is a basic type of semiconductor device. LEDs have become more and more popular and useful in recent years because they're small, energy efficient and versatile [source: LED FAQ]. These simple semiconductors are in everything from tiny digital alarm clocks to jumbo television screens.
The reason semiconductors only partially conduct current is because the materials they're made from have positive regions at one end and negative regions at the other. The negative end is somewhere between being a conductor and an insulator in terms of its ability to resist current or allow current to flow through: A conductor lets current through, and an insulator resists it. Germanium and silicon are elements that fall in the semiconductor range [source: Electronics Tutorials].
The computer is a great example of an electronic device that has benefitted from the development and application of semiconductors. Remember how computers used to be so large they would fill an entire room? The groundbreaking work of William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain in the mid-1940s changed all that. Instead of being powered by hot vacuum tubes that required special refrigerated rooms to cool them off, computers could now be fueled by vastly smaller, much more dependable and less power-hungry transistors that used germanium (and later silicon) as a semiconductor. From there, the technology only got tinier and more efficient. It also apparently became a component practical for products we use every day. In 2010, when other industries were struggling, the industrial semiconductor market grew by 35 percent [source: Carrasco Heres].
As nanotechnology continues to advance, chips and semiconductors will only become smaller, but deliver even better and faster performance. Photonic crystals can make up semiconductor LEDs, for example. Once manufacturing techniques make them easy and inexpensive to produce, the possibilities for all semiconductors can do only will expand [source: Nanowerk].
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