An optically modulated field-effect transistor (OFET) based on a silicon carbide junction field-effect transistor (JFET) is under study as, potentially, a prototype of devices that could be useful for detecting ultraviolet light. The SiC OFET is an experimental device that is one of several devices, including commercial and experimental photodiodes, that were initially evaluated as detectors of ultraviolet light from combustion and that could be incorporated into SiC integrated circuits to be designed to function as combustion sensors. The ultraviolet-detection sensitivity of the photodiodes was found to be less than desired, such that it would be necessary to process their outputs using high-gain amplification circuitry. On the other hand, in principle, the function of the OFET could be characterized as a combination of detection and amplification. In effect, its sensitivity could be considerably greater than that of a photodiode, such that the need for amplification external to the photodetector could be reduced or eliminated.

The experimental SiC OFET was made by processes similar to JFET- fabrication processes developed at Glenn Research Center. The gate of the OFET is very long, wide, and thin, relative to the gates of typical prior SiC JFETs. Unlike in prior SiC FETs, the gate is almost completely transparent to near-ultraviolet and visible light. More specifically:

  • The OFET includes a p+ gate layer less than 1/4 μm thick, through which photons can be transported efficiently to the p+/p body interface.
  • The gate is relatively long and wide (about 0.5 by 0.5 mm), such that holes generated at the body interface form a depletion layer that modulates the conductivity of the channel between the drain and the source.

The exact physical mechanism of modulation of conductivity is a subject of continuing research. It is known that injection of minority charge carriers (in this case, holes) at the interface exerts a strong effect on the channel, resulting in amplification of the photon-detection signal. A family of operating curves characterizing the OFET can be generated in a series of measurements performed at different intensities of incident ultraviolet light.

This work was done by Massood Tabib-Azar of Case Western Reserve University for Glenn Research Center.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steve Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-18349-1


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the January, 2009 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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