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    1. Intel drops two high ranking Intel staff in the last six weeks

      On June 11th Jim Keller (Senior Vice President of Intel’s Silicon Engineering Group) retired immediately - Former tenure at AMD, Tesla, and Apple. - Link Next on June 27th Murthy Renduchintala...
      • On June 11th Jim Keller (Senior Vice President of Intel’s Silicon Engineering Group) retired immediately - Former tenure at AMD, Tesla, and Apple. - Link

      • Next on June 27th Murthy Renduchintala (Chief Engineering Officer) departs due to a massive layoff - Link

      An interesting note is that Ann Kelleher who is a 24-year Intel veteran will lead the development of 7-nanometer and 5-nanometer chip technology processes.



      With ARM, AMD, Nvidia, TSMC leading the charge, Intel might start their downward run. They are now relying on TSMC for fab capacity in hopes to outbid AMD and constrain supply. AMD is quickly growing in the enterprise space and providing comparable performance.

      I believe we (consumers) are in for a great few years of accelerated CPU development.

      8 votes
    2. A layperson's introduction to LEDs

      Introduction I want to give an introduction on several physics topics at a level understandable to laypeople (high school level physics background). Making physics accessible to laypeople is a...


      I want to give an introduction on several physics topics at a level understandable to laypeople (high school level physics background). Making physics accessible to laypeople is a much discussed topic at universities. It can be very hard to translate the professional terms into a language understandable by people outside the field. So I will take this opportunity to challenge myself to (hopefully) create an understandable introduction to interesting topics in modern physics. To this end, I will take liberties in explaining things, and not always go for full scientific accuracy, while hopefully still getting the core concepts across. If a more in-depth explanation is wanted, please ask in the comments and I will do my best to answer.

      Previous topics

      Bookmarkable meta post with links to all previous topics

      Today's topic

      Today's topic will be light emitting diodes, better known as LEDs. As the name suggests, we'll have to discuss light and diodes. We will find out why LEDs can only emit a single colour and why they don't get hot like other sources of light. Let's start by discussing diodes, in case you are already familiar with diodes note that I will limit the discussion to semiconductor (p-n with a direct bandgap) diodes as that's the type that's used in LEDs.

      What's a diode?

      A diode is an electronic component that, ideally, only lets electric current through in one direction. In other words it's a good resistor when the current flows in one direction and a really good conductor when the current flows in the other direction. Let's look a bit closer at how diodes function.


      Diodes are made out of two different semiconducting materials. In everyday life we tend to classify materials as either conducting (metals being the prime example) or non-conducting (wood, plastics, rubber). Conductance is the flow of electrons through a material, a conducting material has a lot of electrons that can move freely through a material while an insulator has none. Semiconducting materials fall in between these two categories. They do conduct but not a lot, so in other words they have a few electrons that can move freely.

      N-type semiconductors

      We are able to change a semiconductor's conductivity by adding tiny amounts of other materials, this is called doping. As an example, we can take silicon (the stuff that the device you're reading this on is made out of) which is the most well-known semiconductor. Pure silicon will form a crystal structure where each silicon atom has 4 neighbours, and each atom will share 1 electron with each neighbour. Now we add a little bit of a material that can share 5 electrons with its neighbours (how generous!). What will happen? Four of its shareable electrons are busy being shared with neighbours and won't leave the vicinity of the atom, but the fifth can't be shared and is now free to move around the material! So this means we added more freely flowing electron and that the conductivity of the semiconductor increases. An illustration of this process is provided here, Si is chemistry-talk for silicon and P is chemistry-talk for phosphorus, a material with 5 shareable electrons. This kind of doping is called n-type doping because we added more electrons, which have a negative charge, that can freely move.

      P-type semiconductors

      We can do the same thing by adding a material that's a bit stingy and is only willing to share 3 electrons, for example boron. Think for a moment what will happen in this case. One of the silicon atoms neighbouring a boron atom will want to share an electron, but the boron atom is already sharing all of its atoms. This attracts other electrons that are nearby, one of them will move in to allow the boron atom to share a fourth electron. However, this will create the same problem elsewhere in our material. Which will also get compensated, but this just creates the same problem once more in yet another location. So what we now have is a hole, a place where an electron should be but isn't, that is moving around the crystal. So in effect we created a freely moving positive charged hole. We call this type of doping p-type. Here's an illustration with B the boron atoms.

      Creating a diode

      So what would happen if we took a n-type semiconductor and a p-type semiconductor and pushed them against one another? Suddenly the extra free-flowing electrons of the n-type semiconductor have a purpose; to fill the holes in the p-type. So these electrons rush over and fill the holes nearest to the junction between the two semiconductors. However, as they do this a charge imbalance is created. Suddenly the region of p-type semiconductor that is near the junction has an abundance of electrons relative to the positive charges of the atom cores. A net negative charge is created in the p-type semiconductor. Similarly, the swift exit of the electrons from the n-type semiconductor means the charge of the cores there isn't compensated, so the region of the n-type semiconductor near the junction is now positively charged. This creates a barrier, the remaining free electrons of the n-type cannot reach the far-away holes of the p-type because they have to get through the big net negative charge of the p-type near the junction. Illustration here. We have now created a diode!

      How diodes work

      Think for a moment what will happen if we send current* (which is just a bunch of electrons moving) from the p-type towards the n-type. The incoming electrons will face the negative charge barrier of the p-type and be unable to continue. This means there is no current. In other words the diode has a high resistance. Now let's flip things around and send electrons through the other way. Now they will come across the positive charge barrier of the n-type semiconductor and be attracted to the barrier instead. The electrons' negative charge compensates the net positive charge of the barrier on the n-type and it will vanish. This destroys the equilibrium situation of the barrier. The p-type holes are no longer repelled by the positive barrier of the n-type (as it no longer exists) and move closer to the junction, this means the entire barrier will fade and current can move through. We now have a conductor.

      OK, but I don't see what this has to do with light

      Now let's find out how we can create light using this method. When current is applied to a diode what happens is that one side of the diode is at a higher energy than the other side. This is what motivates the electrons to move, they want to go from high energy to low energy. If the p-type semiconductor is at a higher energy than the n-type the electron will, upon crossing the junction between the two types, go from a high energy level to a lower one. This difference in energy must be compensated because (as @ducks mentioned in his thermodynamics post) energy cannot be destroyed. So where does the energy go? It gets turned into light!

      The energy difference between the p-type and n-type is fixed, meaning a fixed amount of energy is released each time an electron crosses the junction. This means the light is of a single colour (colour is how we perceive the wavelength of light, which is determined by the energy of the light wave). Furthermore, none of the energy is lost so there is no energy being turned into heat, in other words the LED does not get warm.


      So now we know why the LED is so power-efficient; it does not turn any energy into heat, it all goes into light. We now also know why they only emit a single colour, because the energy released when an electron crosses the junction is fixed.

      Next time

      I think next time I will try to tackle the concept of wave functions in quantum mechanics.


      As usual, please let me know where I missed the mark. Also let me know if things are not clear to you, I will try to explain further in the comments!


      *) Yes, current flow is defined to be opposite to the flow of the electrons, but I don't want to confuse readers with annoying definitions.

      34 votes