Semiconductor devices are electronic components that exploit the electronic properties of semiconductor materials, principally silicon, germanium, and gallium arsenide, as well as organic semiconductors. Semiconductor devices have replaced thermionic devices (vacuum tubes) in most applications. They use electronic conduction in the solid state as opposed to the gaseous state or thermionic emission in a high vacuum.
Semiconductor devices are manufactured both as single discrete devices and as integrated circuits (ICs), which consist of a number—from a few (as low as two) to billions—of devices manufactured and interconnected on a single semiconductor substrate, or wafer.
Semiconductor materials are so useful because their behavior can be easily manipulated by the addition of impurities, known as doping. Semiconductor conductivity can be controlled by introduction of an electric or magnetic field, by exposure to light or heat, or by mechanical deformation of a doped monocrystalline grid; thus, semiconductors can make excellent sensors. Current conduction in a semiconductor occurs via mobile or "free" electrons and holes, collectively known as charge carriers. Doping a semiconductor such as silicon with a small amount of impurity atoms, such as phosphorus or boron, greatly increases the number of free electrons or holes within the semiconductor. When a doped semiconductor contains excess holes it is called "p-type", and when it contains excess free electrons it is known as "n-type", where p (positive for holes) or n (negative for electrons) is the sign of the charge of the majority mobile charge carriers. The semiconductor material used in devices is doped under highly controlled conditions in a fabrication facility, or fab, to precisely control the location and concentration of p- and n-type dopants. The junctions which form where n-type and p-type semiconductors join together are called p-n junctions.