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Diodes

Example:

diode symbol

Circuit symbol:

diode symbols

Function
Diodes allow electricity to flow in only one direction. The arrow of the circuit symbol shows the direction in which the current can flow. Diodes are the electrical version of a valve and early diodes were actually called valves. photo diode, schottky diode symbol

Forward Voltage Drop
Electricity uses up a little energy pushing its way through the diode, rather like a person pushing through a door with a spring. This means that there is a small voltage across a conducting diode, it is called the forward voltage drop and is about 0.7V for all normal diodes which are made from silicon. The forward voltage drop of a diode is almost constant whatever the current passing through the diode so they have a very steep characteristic (current-voltage graph).

Reverse Voltage
When a reverse voltage is applied a perfect diode does not conduct, but all real diodes leak a very tiny current of a few µA or less. This can be ignored in most circuits because it will be very much smaller than the current flowing in the forward direction. However, all diodes have a maximum reverse voltage (usually 50V or more) and if this is exceeded the diode will fail and pass a large current in the reverse direction, this is called breakdown.
Ordinary diodes can be split into two types: Signal diodes which pass small currents of 100mA or less and Rectifier diodes which can pass large currents. In addition there are LEDs (which have their own page) and Zener diodes (at the bottom of this page).

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Connecting and soldering
Diodes must be connected the correct way round, the diagram may be labelled a or + for anode and k or - for cathode (yes, it really is k, not c, for cathode!). The cathode is marked by a line painted on the body. Diodes are labelled with their code in small print, you may need a magnifying glass to read this on small signal diodes!
Small signal diodes can be damaged by heat when soldering, but the risk is small unless you are using a germanium diode (codes beginning OA...) in which case you should use a heat sink clipped to the lead between the joint and the diode body. A standard crocodile clip can be used as a heat sink.

Rectifier diodes are quite robust and no special precautions are needed for soldering them.

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Testing diodes
You can use a multimeter or a simple tester (battery, resistor and LED) to check that a diode conducts in one direction but not the other. A lamp may be used to test a rectifier diode, but do NOT use a lamp to test a signal diode because the large current passed by the lamp will destroy the diode!

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