MESFET stands for metal–semiconductor field effect transistor. It is quite similar to a JFET in construction and terminology. The difference is that instead of using a p-n junction for a gate, a Schottky (metal-semiconductor) junction is used. MESFETs are usually constructed in compound semiconductor technologies lacking high quality surface passivation such as GaAs, InP, or SiC, and are faster but more expensive than silicon-based JFETs or MOSFETs. Production MESFETs are operated up to approximately 45 GHz, and are commonly used for microwave frequency communications and radar. The first MESFETs were developed in 1966, and a year later their extremely high frequency RF microwave performance was demonstrated. From a digital circuit design perspective, it is increasingly difficult to use MESFETs as the basis for digital integrated circuits as the scale of integration goes up, compared to CMOS silicon based fabrication.
The MESFET differs from the common insulated gate FET or MOSFET in that there is no insulator under the gate over the active switching region. This implies that the MESFET gate should, in transistor mode, be biased such that one does not have a forward-conducting metal–semiconductor diode instead of a reversed-biased depletion zone controlling the underlying channel. While this restriction inhibits certain circuit possibilities, MESFET analog and digital devices work reasonably well if kept within the confines of design limits. The most critical aspect of the design is the gate metal extent over the switching region. Generally the narrower the gate modulated carrier channel the better the frequency handling abilities, overall. Spacing of the source and drain with respect to the gate, and the lateral extent of the gate are important though somewhat less critical design parameters. MESFET current handling ability improves as the gate is elongated laterally, keeping the active region constant, however is limited by phase shift along the gate due to the transmission line effect. As a result most production MESFETs use a built up top layer of low resistance metal on the gate, often producing a mushroom-like profile in cross section.
Numerous MESFET fabrication possibilities have been explored for a wide variety of semiconductor systems. Some of the main application areas are:
- Military communications
- As front end low noise amplifier of microwave receivers in both military radar devices and communication.
- Commercial optoelectronics
- Satellite communications
- As power amplifier for output stage of microwave links.
- As a power oscillator.