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Compound Semiconductors

Combinations of semiconductor materials.


Compound semiconductors are semiconductors that are made from two or more elements from the groups of the periodic table. (Silicon [Si] and germanium [Ge] are single elements and therefore are not compound semiconductors, although they are used in compound semiconductors. They are also known as simple semiconductors when not combined with other elements.)

Some compound semiconductors have been used for years in RF applications, but their properties are making them more valuable as general replacements for silicon to be used in many industries. The electrons in compound semiconductors can move faster than electrons in silicon. These semiconductors can operate at lower voltage while consuming a fraction of the energy that current materials consume to store, route, transmit, and detect data. Compound semiconductors also can emit and sense light, generate microwaves, and are magnetically sensitive and resistant to heat.*

For these reasons, the industry is making great strides to research and use compound semiconductors for power, logic, optoelectronic, and memory semis. Many applications in mobile device, communications, industrial, energy, and automotive — especially electric vehicles — segments will benefit for compound semiconductor transistors. SiC and GaN are some of the most promising compound semiconductors.

Compound semiconductors are grouped by valence numbers. A III-V (3-5) group means the first element has three electrons in its valence band and the second element has five electrons in its valence band. II-VI (2-6) and IV-IV (4-4) are other groups. These groups are referred to as binary semiconductor groups, as they have two elements.


(Gallium has three valence electrons, arsenide and nitride have five.)


  • Gallium oxide (gallium trioxide — Ga2O3)


  • Zinc sulfide (ZnS)
  • Zinc selenide (ZnSe)



Example of element groups that are used in compound semiconductors. Source: Semiconductor Engineering

(Above) Examples of the elements in elemental groups that are used in compound semiconductors. Image source: Semiconductor Engineering




*Parts of this definition was supplied by Applied Materials