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Studying the 'Semiconductors' theme with the use of computer technologies

Module by: Yuri Bendes. E-mail the author

Summary: The article discussed the use of computer technologies in studying the topic 'Semiconductors', which is in wide use of teaching and information resources of copyright software "eFizika".

Studying the ‘Semiconductors’ theme with the use of computer technologies

Personal computers widely used in every realm of man’s activity, i.e. transportation, healthcare, manufacturing, economy, science, education, became an integral feature of today’s life. The implementation of modern computer technologies in educational activities is a priority of their development given the necessity to efficiently prepare the young for daily life activities in the information society. But the educational system computerization involves not merely the computer implementation in the traditional learning process, but the radical reforming of the entire educational sector, the development of new educational training technologies, the restructuring and rearrangement of educational process. The innovative teaching technologies are derived from preparing and publishing various scientific and educational materials; developing the information computer systems and opening the access to information resources via the Internet [7, 10].

The main information computer systems to be used in teaching a course of physics are as follows:

  • electronic lesson books;
  • tutors, electronic problem books, testing systems;
  • simulators;
  • measuring systems;
  • remote instruction systems;
  • learning control systems;
  • presentation, display and multimedia materials;
  • reference materials, encyclopedias.

The physics course computer support is normally implemented by using a number of types listed above on a simultaneous basis. For instance, the electronic problem book ‘ELZA’ (MIFI) contains a hypertext reference manual and multimedia in addition to questions and problems in general course of physics. ‘1C: Tutor. Physics’ is a hypertext structure combination of a lesson book, a problem book and a reference book [1].

Among the encyclopedias it is worth to place special emphasis on ‘The Great Encyclopedia by Cyril and Methodius’, ‘The Great Soviet Encyclopedia’, and the example of a test system is ‘Studying for USE. Physics’ [15].

A special place in the field of teaching physics is occupied by the interactive courses of physics: ‘Lessons of physics by Cyril and Methodius’, ‘The 21st century course of physics’, ‘Physics in its entirety’; the courses that include physical models and laboratory activities: ‘Open physics’, ‘Video problem book in physics’, ‘Physics 10’ – ‘Physics 11’ educational software (Quasar-Micro Corporation) [12, 16].

The Quasar-Micro Corporation operates toward the modernization of education by means of up-to-date technologies and the implementation of interactive teaching methods in educational institutions of various types. ‘Physics 10’ – ‘Physics 11’ virtual physical laboratory by this corporation is the software providing the computer support for front-end laboratory work and laboratory practical activities. Each front-end laboratory activity consists of text information (subject matter, purpose, devices and materials, work flow), self-assessment questions, a video fragment of the experiment and an interactive model that almost repeats a display. The laboratory practical activities contain additional theoretical information, but they do not have any simulators (except ‘The Brownian motion observation’). Generally, the simulators are convenient in use, contain a game interface and allow for performing the virtual experiments, although mostly at a qualitative level.

While studying the ‘Semiconductors’ theme, this software allows you to perform the laboratory practical activities on the following subjects ‘Analysis of semiconductors resistance versus temperature’ (fig. 1), ‘Volt-ampere rating for a semiconductor diode’ and ‘Transistor studies’. All the three activities bring to students’ notice a video fragment of the experiment and a work description with the theoretical data and work flow included.

Figure 1: ‘Physics 10’ - ‘Physics 11’ virtual physics laboratory interface By Quasar-Micro Corporation
Figure 1 (01.png)

The application of the computer software product described above allows representing the educational materials in the form of multimedia lectures and lessons, virtual laboratory activities, etc.; implementing tests and knowledge assessments.

The computer-based physical designers: ‘Living physics’, ‘Active physics. Intensive PC-based course of physics’; the circuit designers ‘Electronics Workbench’ and ‘Multisim’, the designers related to every theme of physics, ‘On-line laboratory in physics’ and ‘Crocodile’, are widely applied in physics teaching [6, 8, 9, 16].

The ‘Crocodile’ designer related to every theme of physics is produced by the Scottish company ‘Crocodile Clips Ltd’ and comprises a series of computer simulation experiments, numbering a few hundreds of ready-made physical problems and models of experimental setups. Since 2009 the company has produced new software items to replace ‘Crocodile Physics’:

  • ‘Yenka Electricity’ for circuits simulation with the use of more than 100 components;
  • ‘Yenka Light and Sound’ for experimenting with sound, light, mechanical waves and rays;
  • ‘Yenka Motion’ for pursuing the studies of oscillations, gravity and motion [18]

The following components of this software product are particularly worthy of note: ‘Yenka Light and Sound’, almost unparalleled at this level, ‘Yenka Electricity’ not surpassing ‘Electronics Workbench’ and ‘Multisim’ by National Instruments Company in terms of its features and ‘Yenka Motion’, inferior to ‘Interactive Physics’ by the number of simulation components. The undeniable advantages of ‘Yenka’ are a convenient and user-friendly interface, the automatic plotting of animation graphs, the detailed description of simulation components and recommendations on their use, the availability of ready-made models to illustrate physical phenomena and processes and to provide opportunities for the self-sustained simulation thereof including the saving and printing functions.

While studying the ‘Semiconductors’ theme, the ‘Crocodile’ designer allows you to simulate the processes occurring in the electrical circuits with a photoconductive and thermal resistor (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: The ‘Crocodile’ designer interface
Figure 2 (02.png)

Using the ‘Electronics Workbench’ computer program makes it possible to design and analyze the electric circuitries (Fig. 3). Its interface allows you to select the electric circuit components, change their settings by using the ‘Component properties’ command and to combine them into electrical circuitries. The performance-based analysis of electric circuitries can be carried out using this program and relying upon the voltmeter, ammeter and oscillation detector readings. With the help of this software you can get prepared for handling the real instruments, simulate an electric circuit of the experimental setup (Fig. 3) and study the current-voltage record of the semiconductor diode switched in the forward and reverse directions.

Working with the ‘Electronics Workbench’ program, the pupils and students acquire skills in drawing up the circuitries for benchmark or laboratory setups as well as analyze their performance and the physical processes occurring therein.

Figure 3: The ‘Electronics Workbench’ program interface. Model of experimental setup in the ‘Electronics Workbench’ program
Figure 3 (03.png)

Special attention should be paid to professional electronic laboratories (‘LabWiev’ (the National Instruments Corporation), Rosnauchprybor PF RNPO, 1999-2004), Arhymed (the Institute for New Technologies, Moscow) containing a universal interface and complete with a set of sensors, transducers and actuating devices. Even though such an approach allows us to investigate the physical processes using the real physical instruments, available in classrooms and in student laboratories, it is considerably expensive and almost unaffordable.

The software programs capable of turning your computer with a sound card into a complex measuring device (an audio-signal generator, a frequency meter, a TWO-BEAM oscillation detector, a complex signal spectrum analyzer) and those created on an independent basis in high-level (BASIC, Pascal) and medium-level (Delphi, SI) languages are often used while teaching physics.

In spite of this diversity, the present-day achievements of digital and computer technologies are far ahead of the material resources and instructional methods of experiment in schools and in higher educational establishments. Therefore, this article deals with discussing a set of hardware and software means that facilitate the automated laboratory and research operations performed at physical and technical facilities. The numerous studies pursued in this direction are indicative of this approach relevance. Most designs implemented in this direction are separate devices for performing this or other laboratory experiment (Fig. 4) [11, 13, 14].

Figure 4: Scheme of laboratory setup for studying the semiconductors resistance-versus- temperature relationship
Figure 4 (04.png)

The author-designed digital measurement system using the analog-digital converters (ADC) and the microcontroller (MC) and based on modern hardware components widely applies the advanced technologies and has the possibility of expanding its functionality through various types of sensors. Measuring programs are used for controlling the digital measuring devices connected to a computer via serial or parallel interfaces. The values recorded with these devices (depending on the setting type) are transmitted to the computer where they get processed in the program and displayed on the screen. Depending on the experiment, the results can be represented as a table or as appropriately drawn graphs.

All the software programs designed for performing experiments are integrated into the teaching methodology package ‘eFizyka’. The software and hardware unit of the teaching methodology package ‘eFizyka’ allows us to perform observations, measurements and collection of data, to automate the research flow and the experiment control process; to expedite the measuring, data collecting and processing operations; to reduce the experiment preparation and performance time; and makes it possible to save the results on a disk in a convenient form for further processing as well as to improve the accuracy and reliability of obtained data [2, 3].

Applying the computer technologies while studying the ‘Semiconductors’ theme, suggested by the author, consists in using the methodology and information resources of the author’s software product ‘eFizyka’.

The teaching methodology software package ‘eFizyka’ includes an interactive reference book and a course of lectures, a problem book and knowledge test assignments, computer programs for simulating the physical phenomena and measuring the physical parameters [5].

The ‘eFizyka’ package also contains a diversity of laboratory activities mainly dealing with the following themes: ‘The Semiconductors ‘, ‘Studying the relationship of electron-hole transition conductivity versus temperature’ (Fig. 5), ‘Determining the semiconductor activation energy’, ‘The light emitting diode analysis’.

Figure 5: General view of laboratory setup for studying the relationship of electron-hole transition conductivity versus temperature
Figure 5 (05.jpg)

While performing the laboratory work to study the pn-transition conductivity versus temperature relationship, apart from handing a real setup, it is appropriate to use a computer as a measuring system. Carrying out the investigations with the measuring system involved requires drawing a scheme (Fig. 6) that uses two analog-digital converters (ADC) and a LPT-4COM splitter. The ADC switched into the semiconductor diode circuit converts the resistor voltage drop into a digital code and transmits it to the computer that performs the conversion thereof into current intensity according to Ohm’s law and displays its value on the screen. The other ADC is connected to the sensor with the range of operating temperatures between -50 º C and +150 º C, and provides the temperature measurement accuracy of no worse than ± 1 º C.

Figure 6: Key diagram for analyzing the temperature-based alteration of electron-hole transition conductivity with an ADC applied
A dog sitting on a bed

The measuring system interface allows us to preset the diode circuit voltage values and to measure the intensity of current flowing through the diode. The current intensity value will be automatically included into the table upon entering into the window the voltage value preset on the laboratory specimen, and clicking the ‘Save’ button. The program performs data processing by Ohm's law and displays the relationship graph R = f (t) on the screen (Fig. 7).

Figure 7: Graph of resistance versus temperature relationship
A dog sitting on a bed

The program allows us to obtain the following relationship graphs: the pn-transition temperature change with time; the intensity of current flowing through the semiconductor versus the measurement time; the intensity of current flowing through the semiconductor versus temperature; the semiconductor resistance versus the measurement time.

Figure 8: Semiconductor current intensity-versus-temperature relationship
A dog sitting on a bed

While performing the laboratory work on ‘The light emitting diode analysis’ (fig.9), the students can examine the physical nature of the phenomenon of light emission by pn-transition, the structure, the operation principle and the features of the light emitting diodes [4].

Figure 9: General view of the laboratory setup for studying the light and spectral features of the LED
A dog sitting on a bed

The laboratory setup consists of a monochromator with the LED (1) and the photoconductor (2) respectively installed on the lens and the eyepiece, and connected to the power circles. Monochromatic spots show up from the LED spectrum and get directed to the photoconductor. In laboratory work the photoconductor is used for measuring the intensities of the LED spectral emission lines, proportional to the photocurrent intensity that is recorded with a milli-ammeter. The scheme (fig. 10) with two analog-digital converters used is drawn by means of the measuring system in order to pursue the study. They turn the voltage drops in the resistors of respective circles into a digital code and transmit that to the computer where it gets converted into current intensities to be displayed on the screen.

Figure 10: Key diagram of laboratory setup for analyzing the light diode by means of an ACD
A dog sitting on a bed

The computer program interface allows performing the analysis of the LED spectral pattern. The current value will be automatically included into the table upon entering into the window the values of the drum graduation marks set in the monochromator and upon clicking the ‘Save’ button. The program performs data processing and displays the relationship graph on the screen (Fig. 7).

Figure 11: Computer program interface. Relationship
Figure 11 (11.png)

Upon analyzing the results and clicking the ‘Clear’ button the measuring system is ready for recording the light pattern (Fig. 12). This requires entering into the ‘Drum Graduation Marks’ window the value consistent with the peaked curve of the light emission diode spectral response and clicking the ‘Save’ button after every voltage change in the light diode starting from 3V to 2V.

Figure 12: Computer program interface. Relationship
Figure 12 (12.png)

Furthermore, the teaching methodology package contains an embedded browser that allows a teacher to arrange all the teaching documents in the html format; the package includes in particular the necessary theoretical information and the instructions for handling the simulation and measurement programs. A testing program and a test creation editor (as a separate product) are added to the program to check on and to self-test the material assimilated. Applying this approach allows us to discuss the ‘Semiconductors’ theme in an all-round way, using the principally new possibilities for the structuring, arrangement and presentation of educational content. Using the ‘eFizyka’ package when performing the laboratory operations is based on the fundamental understanding of teaching particularities as well as the educational material perception psychology, and provides a high level of teaching physics in secondary and tertiary institutions. The developed approach can be used not only in performing the laboratory work, but also in delivering the lectures and conducting the practical classes as well as during the independent work of pupils and students on educational materials.

Among the advantages offered by the use of the teaching materials package in teaching physics, the most important are three:

The ‘еFizyka’ allows us to achieve the combination of educational and methodological content, simulation computer programs and universal measuring devices in the most expedient and economical way;

The ‘еFizyka is a powerful, independent on the computer platform type, dynamic open system, perfectly suited to collecting, storing, analyzing and representing the information;

The ‘еFizyka’ is a package that meets modern educational and technical standards and can be widely used for measurement and automation.

References

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