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Three graphs of E versus R are shown. Figure a has a curve formed by two almost vertical lines which come down, turn to the right and become almost horizontal. They converge to form a single line. Figure b has a similar curve, but there are two additional lines between the lines present in figure a. Figure c is similar to figure a with the area between the lines shaded.
The dependence of energy-level splitting on the average distance between (a) two atoms, (b) four atoms, and (c) a large number of atoms. For a large number of electrons, a continuous band of energies is produced.
Figure shows three shaded rectangles, one on top of the other, separated by gaps. The lowest one is labeled 1s, the middle one is 2s and the top one is 2p. 1s and 2s are the same height, 2p is taller. All have the same width. To the left of the rectangles is an arrow labeled energy pointing up.
A simple representation of the energy structure of a solid. Electrons belong to energy bands separated by energy gaps.

Each energy band is separated from the other by an energy gap    . The electrical properties of conductors and insulators can be understood in terms of energy bands and gaps. The highest energy band that is filled is known as a valence band    . The next available band in the energy structure is known as a conduction band    . In a conductor, the highest energy band that contains electrons is partially filled, whereas in an insulator, the highest energy band containing electrons is completely filled. The difference between a conductor and insulator is illustrated in [link] .

A conductor differs from an insulator in how its electrons respond to an applied electric field. If a significant number of electrons are set into motion by the field, the material is a conductor. In terms of the band model, electrons in the partially filled conduction band gain kinetic energy from the electric field by filling higher energy states in the conduction band. By contrast, in an insulator, electrons belong to completely filled bands. When the field is applied, the electrons cannot make such transitions (acquire kinetic energy from the electric field) due to the exclusion principle. As a result, the material does not conduct electricity.

Two figure have a rectangle at the bottom labeled valence band, a space in the middle labeled energy gap and a rectangle at the top labeled conduction band. In figure a, which is labeled conductor: valance band filled, conduction band unfilled, the bottom rectangle is shaded and the top one is shaded only in the lower half. In figure b, which is labeled insulator: valance band filled, conduction band filled, both rectangles are fully shaded.
Comparison of a conductor and insulator. The highest energy band is partially filled in a conductor but completely filled in an insulator.

Visit this simulation to learn about the origin of energy bands in crystals of atoms and how the structure of bands determines how a material conducts electricity. Explore how band structure creates a lattice of many wells.

A semiconductor    has a similar energy structure to an insulator except it has a relatively small energy gap between the lowest completely filled band and the next available unfilled band. This type of material forms the basis of modern electronics. At T = 0 K , the semiconductor and insulator both have completely filled bands. The only difference is in the size of the energy gap (or band gap ) E g between the highest energy band that is filled (the valence band) and the next-higher empty band (the conduction band). In a semiconductor, this gap is small enough that a substantial number of electrons from the valence band are thermally excited into the conduction band at room temperature. These electrons are then in a nearly empty band and can respond to an applied field. As a general rule of thumb, the band gap of a semiconductor is about 1 eV. (See [link] for silicon.) A band gap of greater than approximately 1 eV is considered an insulator. For comparison, the energy gap of diamond (an insulator) is several electron-volts.

Note: Except for diamond, the materials listed are all semiconductors.
Energy gap for various materials at 300 k
Material Energy Gap E g ( eV )
Si 1.14
Ge 0.67
GaAs 1.43
GaP 2.26
GaSb 0.69
InAs 0.35
InP 1.35
InSb 0.16
C ( diamond ) 5.48


  • The energy levels of an electron in a crystal can be determined by solving Schrödinger’s equation for a periodic potential and by studying changes to the electron energy structure as atoms are pushed together from a distance.
  • The energy structure of a crystal is characterized by continuous energy bands and energy gaps.
  • The ability of a solid to conduct electricity relies on the energy structure of the solid.

Conceptual questions

What are the two main approaches used to determine the energy levels of electrons in a crystal?

(1) Solve Schrödinger’s equation for the allowed states and energies. (2) Determine energy levels for the case of a very large lattice spacing and then determine the energy levels as this spacing is reduced.

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Describe two features of energy levels for an electron in a crystal.

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How does the number of energy levels in a band correspond to the number, N , of atoms.

For N atoms spaced far apart, there are N different wave functions, all with the same energy (similar to the case of an electron in the double well of H 2 ) . As the atoms are pushed together, the energies of these N different wave functions are split. By the exclusion principle, each electron must each have a unique set of quantum numbers, so the N atoms bringing N electrons together must have at least N states.

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Why are some materials very good conductors and others very poor conductors?

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Why are some materials semiconductors?

For a semiconductor, there is a relatively large energy gap between the lowest completely filled band and the next available unfilled band. Typically, a number of electrons traverse the gap and therefore the electrical conductivity is small. The properties of a semiconductor are sensitivity to temperature: As the temperature is increased, thermal excitations promote charge carriers from the valence band across the gap and into the conduction band.

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Why does the resistance of a semiconductor decrease as the temperature increases?

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For a one-dimensional crystal, write the lattice spacing ( a ) in terms of the electron wavelength.

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What is the main difference between an insulator and a semiconductor?

For an insulator, the energy gap between the valence band and the conduction band is larger than for a semiconductor.

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What is the longest wavelength for a photon that can excite a valence electron into the conduction band across an energy gap of 0.80 eV?

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A valence electron in a crystal absorbs a photon of wavelength, λ = 0.300 nm . This is just enough energy to allow the electron to jump from the valence band to the conduction band. What is the size of the energy gap?

4.13 keV

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Questions & Answers

what is meant by Z in nuclear physic
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atomic n.o
no of atoms present in nucleus
Note on spherical mirrors
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what is Draic equation? with explanation
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it's a subject
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god particles is know as higgs boson, when two proton are reacted than a particles came out which is used to make a bond between than materials
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microscopic particles or gases
Astronomers theorize that the faster expansion rate is due to a mysterious, dark force that is pulling galaxies apart. One explanation for dark energy is that it is a property of space.
Thanks for your contribution Areej.
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about nuclear angular momentum
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Practice Key Terms 5

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Source:  OpenStax, University physics volume 3. OpenStax CNX. Nov 04, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12067/1.4
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