A Gunn diode, also known as a transferred electron device (TED), is a form of diode, a semiconductor electronic component, used in high-frequency electronics. Its internal construction is unlike other diodes in that it consists only of N-doped semiconductor material, whereas most diodes consist of both P and N-doped regions. In the Gunn diode, three regions exist: two of them are heavily N-doped on each terminal, with a thin layer of lightly doped material in between. When a voltage is applied to the device, the electrical gradient will be largest across the thin middle layer. Conduction will take place as in any conductive material with current being proportional to the applied voltage. Eventually, at higher field values, the conductive properties of the middle layer will be altered, increasing its resistivity, preventing further conduction and current starts to fall. This means a Gunn diode has a region of negative differential resistance. Its largest use is in electronic oscillators to generate microwaves, in applications such as radar speed guns and microwave relay transmitters.
Gunn diode oscillators
The negative differential resistance, combined with the timing properties of the intermediate layer, is responsible for the diode's largest use: in electronic oscillators at microwave frequencies and above. A relaxation oscillator can be created simply by applying a DC voltage to bias the device into its negative resistance region. In effect, the negative differential resistance of the diode cancels the positive resistance of the load circuit, thus creating a circuit with zero resistance, which will produce spontaneous oscillations. The oscillation frequency is determined partly by the properties of the middle diode layer, but can be tuned by external factors. In practical oscillators an electronic resonator is usually added to control frequency, in the form of a waveguide, microwave cavity or YIG sphere. The diode is usually mounted inside the cavity. The diode cancels the loss resistance of the resonator, so it produces oscillations at its resonant frequency. The frequency can be tuned mechanically, by adjusting the size of the cavity, or in case of YIG spheres by changing the magnetic field. Gunn diodes are used to build oscillators in the 10 GHz to high (THz) frequency range.
The Gunn diode is based on the Gunn effect, and both are named for the physicist J. B. Gunn who, at IBM in 1962, discovered the effect because he refused to accept inconsistent experimental results in gallium arsenide as "noise", and tracked down the cause. Alan Chynoweth, of Bell Telephone Laboratories, showed in June 1965 that only a transferred-electron mechanism could explain the experimental results. The interpretation refers to the Ridley-Watkins-Hilsum theory.
The Gunn effect, and its relation to the Watkins-Ridley-Hilsum effect entered the monograph literature in the early 1970s, e.g. in books on transferred electron devices and, more recently on nonlinear wave methods for charge transport. Several other books that provided the same coverage were published in the intervening years, and can be found by searching library and bookseller catalogues on Gunn effect.
How it works
The electronic band structure of some semiconductor materials, including gallium arsenide (GaAs), have another energy band or sub-band in addition to the valence and conduction bands which are usually used in semiconductor devices. This third band is at a higher energy than the normal conduction band and is empty until energy is supplied to promote electrons to it. The energy stems from the kinetic energy of ballistic electrons. That is, electrons in the conduction band but moving with sufficient kinetic energy can reach the third band.
These electrons either start out below the Fermi level and are given a sufficiently long mean free path to acquire the needed energy by applying a strong electric field, or they are injected by a cathode with the right energy. For the latter, the cathode material has to be chosen carefully; chemical reactions at the interface need to be controlled during fabrication and additional monoatomic layers of other materials inserted. With forward voltage applied, the Fermi level in the cathode moves into the third band, and reflections of ballistic electrons starting around the Fermi level are minimized by matching the density of states and using the additional interface layers to let the reflected waves interfere destructively.
In GaAs the mobility or drift velocity in the third band is lower than that in the usual conduction band, so with a small increase in the forward voltage, more and more electrons can reach the third band and current decreases. This creates a region of negative incremental resistance in the voltage/current relationship.
When a high enough potential is applied to the diode, the charge carrier density along the cathode becomes unstable, and will develop small slices of low conductivity and high field strength which move from the cathode to the anode. It is not possible to balance the population in both bands, so there will always be thin slices of high field strength in a general background of low field strength. So in practice, with a small increase in forward voltage, a slice is created at the cathode, resistance increases, the slice takes off, and when it reaches the anode a new slice is created at the cathode to keep the total voltage constant. If the voltage is lowered, any existing slice is quenched and resistance decreases again.
The laboratory methods that are used to select materials for the manufacture of Gunn diodes include angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy.
Because of their high frequency capability, Gunn diodes are mainly used at microwave frequencies and above. They can produce some of the highest output power of any semiconductor devices at these frequencies. Their most common use is in oscillators, but they are also used in microwave amplifiers to amplify signals. Because the diode is a one-port (two terminal) device, an amplifier circuit must separate the outgoing amplified signal from the incoming input signal to prevent coupling. One common circuit is a reflection amplifier which uses a circulator to separate the signals. A bias tee is needed to isolate the bias current from the high frequency oscillations.
Sensors and measuring instruments
Gunn diode oscillators are used to generate microwave power for:airborne collision avoidance radar, anti-lock brakes, sensors for monitoring the flow of traffic, car radar detectors, pedestrian safety systems, "distance traveled" recorders, motion detectors, "slow-speed" sensors (to detect pedestrian and traffic movement up to 50 m.p.h), traffic signal controllers, automatic door openers, automatic traffic gates, process control equipment to monitor throughput, burglar alarms and equipment to detect trespassers, sensors to avoid derailment of trains, remote vibration detectors, rotational speed tachometers, moisture content monitors.
Radio amateur use
By virtue of their low voltage operation, Gunn diodes can serve as microwave frequency generators for very low powered (few-milliwatt) microwave transmitters. In the late 1970s they were being used by some radio amateurs in Britain. Designs for transmitters were published in journals. They typically consisted simply of an approximately 3 inch waveguide into which the diode was mounted. A low voltage (less than 12 volt) direct current power supply that could be modulated appropriately was used to drive the diode. The waveguide was blocked at one end to form a resonant cavity and the other end ideally fed a parabolic dish.
- V. Gružinskis, J.H. Zhao, O.Shiktorov and E. Starikov, Gunn Effect and the THz Frequency Power Generation in n(+)-n-n(+) GaN Structures, Materials Science Forum, 297--298, 34--344, 1999. 
- Gribnikov, Z. S., Bashirov, R. R., & Mitin, V. V. (2001). Negative effective mass mechanism of negative differential drift velocity and terahertz generation. IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Quantum Electronics, 7(4), 630-640.
- John Voelcker (1989). "The Gunn effect: puzzling over noise". IEEE Spectrum. ISBN 0018-9235 Check
- P. J. Bulman, G. S. Hobson and B. C. Taylor. Transferred electron devices, Academic Press, New York, 1972
- Luis L. Bonilla and Stephen W. Teitsworth, Nonlinear Wave Methods for Charge Transport, Wiley-VCH, 2010.
- The Gunn effect, University of Oklahamo, Department of Physics and Astronomy, course notes.
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