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Semiconductors are very similar to insulators. The two categories of solids differ primarily in that insulators have larger band gaps - energies that electrons must acquire to be free to move from atom to atom. In semiconductors at room temperature, just as in insulators, very few electrons gain enough thermal energy to leap the band gap from the valence band to the conduction band, which is necessary for electrons to be available for electric current conduction. For this reason, pure semiconductors and insulators in the absence of applied electric fields, have roughly similar resistance. The smaller bandgaps of semiconductors, however, allow for other means besides temperature to control their electrical properties.
Semiconductors' intrinsic electrical properties are often permanently modified by introducing impurities by a process known as doping. Usually, it is sufficient to approximate that each impurity atom adds one electron or one "hole" (a concept to be discussed later) that may flow freely. Upon the addition of a sufficiently large proportion of impurity dopants, semiconductors will conduct electricity nearly as well as metals. Depending on the kind of impurity, a doped region of semiconductor can have more electrons or holes, and is named N-type or P-type semiconductor material, respectively. Junctions between regions of N- and P-type semiconductors create electric fields, which cause electrons and holes to be available to move away from them, and this effect is critical to semiconductor device operation. Also, a density difference in the amount of impurities produces a small electric field in the region which is used to accelerate non-equilibrium electrons or holes.
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