MOSFET stands for metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistor. Transistors are small electrical devices that are used in, amongst other things, alarm clocks, calculators, and, perhaps most famously, computers; they are some of the most basic building blocks of modern electronics. A few MOSFETs amplify or process analog signals. Most are used in digital electronics.
MOSFETs act like valves for electricity. They have one input connection (the "gate") which is used to control the flow of electricity between two other connections (the "source" and "drain"). Said another way, the gate acts as a switch that controls the two outputs. Think of a dimmable light switch: the knob itself selects 'ON', 'OFF', or somewhere in between, controlling the brightness of the light. Think of a MOSFET in place of the light switch: the switch itself is the "gate", the "source" is the power coming into the house, and the "drain" is the light bulb.
The name MOSFET describes the structure and the function of the transistor. MOS refers to the fact that a MOSFET is built by layering metal (the "gate") on oxide (an insulator which prevents the flow of electricity) on semiconductor (the "source" and "drain"). FET describes the action of the gate on the semiconductor. An electric signal is sent to the gate, which creates an electric field that alters the connection between the "source" and "drain".
Almost all MOSFETs are used in integrated circuits. As of 2008, it is possible to fit 2,000,000,000 transistors on a single integrated circuit. In 1970, that number was around 2,000.
There are many different ways to make MOSFETs on the semiconductor. The simplest method is shown in the diagram to the right of this text. The blue part represents P-type silicon, while the red part represents N-type silicon. The intersection of the two types makes a diode. In silicon semiconductor, there is a quirk called the "Depletion Region". In doped silicon, with one part being doped N-Type, and one part being doped P-Type, a depletion region will naturally form on the intersection between the two. This is because of their acceptors and donors. P-type silicon has acceptors, also known as holes, which attract electrons towards them. The N-Type silicon has donors, or electrons, which are attracted to holes. In the border between the two, the electrons from the N-Type fill the holes in the P-type. This results in the acceptor, or P-type atoms becoming negatively charged, and since negative charges attract positive charges, acceptors, or holes, will flow towards the "junction". On the N-Type side, there is a positive charge, which results in the donors, or electrons, flowing towards the "junction." When they get there, they will be repelled by the negative charge on the other side of the junction, since alike charges repel. The same will happen on the P-Type side, the donors, or holes will be repelled by the positive area in the N type side. No electricity can flow between the two, since no electrons can move to the other side.
MOSFETs use this to their advantage. The "Body" of the MOSFET is powered negatively, which widens the depletion region, since the holes are filled with the new electrons, so the opposite force to the electrons on the N side becomes much larger. The "Source" of the MOSFET is powered negatively, which shrinks the depletion zone in the N type entirely, since there are enough electrons to fulfill the positive depletion zone. The "Drain" has a positive power. When the "Gate" is supplied with positive power, it will make a small electromagnetic field, which will remove the depletion zone directly below the gate, since there will be a "spray" of holes, which will make something called an "N-Channel". The N-Channel is a temporary region of the P-Type silicon area where there is no depletion zone. The positive electric field will neutralize all of the spare electrons that make up the depletion zone. The electrons in the source area will then have a clear way to move to the "Drain", which would make electricity flow from source to drain.
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