A Zener diode is a particular type of diode that, unlike a normal one, allows current to flow not only from its anode to its cathode, but also in the reverse direction, when the so-called “Zener voltage” is reached. Zener diodes have a highly doped p-n junction. Normal diodes will also break down with a reverse voltage but the voltage and sharpness of the knee are not as well defined as for a Zener diode. Also normal diodes are not designed to operate in the breakdown region, but Zener diodes can reliably operate in this region.
The device was named after Clarence Melvin Zener, who discovered the Zener effect. Zener reverse breakdown is due to electron quantum tunneling caused by a high strength electric field. However, many diodes described as “Zener” diodes rely instead on avalanche breakdown. Both breakdown types are used in Zener diodes with the Zener effect predominating under 5.6 V and avalanche breakdown above.
Zener diodes are widely used in electronic equipment of all kinds and are one of the basic building blocks of electronic circuits. They are used to generate low power stabilized supply rails from a higher voltage and to provide reference voltages for circuits, especially stabilized power supplies. They are also used to protect circuits from over-voltage, especially
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