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Semiconductors are materials that have a band gap between their electrons’ energy levels. This gap must be crossed by a given electron for it to move freely and have the material conduct electricity. Heat and light are energy sources that can promote electrons across this gap. Therefore semiconductors, unlike metals, will become insulators below a certain temperature. Shining light on semiconductors can cause them to elicit current – a photovoltaic (PV) or ‘solar’ cell. Examples of elemental semiconductors are silicon and germanium.  Doping (see n-type and p-type definititions) can modulate the properties of the semiconductor, including the band gap, and allow for a wide variety of applications in materials science and technology.  More recently, changing the size and shape of semiconductor crystals has permitted modulation of the band gap in so-called nanomaterials. Organic molecules can also be semiconductors, which has ushered in the development of plastic PV cells.


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