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Photoconductivity is an optical and electrical phenomenon in which a material becomes more electrically conductive due to the absorption of electromagnetic radiation such as visible light, ultraviolet light, infrared light, or gamma radiation.[1]

When light is absorbed by a material such as a semiconductor, the number of free electrons and holes increases, resulting in increased electrical conductivity.[2] To cause excitation, the light that strikes the semiconductor must have enough energy to raise electrons across the band gap, or to excite the impurities within the band gap. When a bias voltage and a load resistor are used in series with the semiconductor, a voltage drop across the load resistors can be measured when the change in electrical conductivity of the material varies the current through the circuit.

Classic examples of photoconductive materials include:

Molecular photoconductors include organic,[6] inorganic,[7] and – more rarely – coordination compounds.[8][9]


When a photoconductive material is connected as part of a circuit, it functions as a resistor whose resistance depends on the light intensity. In this context, the material is called a photoresistor (also called light-dependent resistor or photoconductor). The most common application of photoresistors is as photodetectors, i.e. devices that measure light intensity. Photoresistors are not the only type of photodetector—other types include charge-coupled devices (CCDs), photodiodes and phototransistors—but they are among the most common. Some photodetector applications in which photoresistors are often used include camera light meters, street lights, clock radios, infrared detectors, nanophotonic systems and low-dimensional photo-sensors devices.[10]


Sensitization is an important engineering procedure to amplify the response of photoconductive materials.[3] The photoconductive gain is proportional to the lifetime of photo-excited carriers (either electrons or holes). Sensitization involves intentional impurity doping that saturates native recombination centers with a short characteristic lifetime, and replacing these centers with new recombination centers having a longer lifetime. This procedure, when done correctly, results in an increase in the photoconductive gain of several orders of magnitude and is used in the production of commercial photoconductive devices. The text by Albert Rose is the work of reference for sensitization.[11]

Negative photoconductivity[edit]

Some materials exhibit deterioration in photoconductivity upon exposure to illumination.[12] One prominent example is hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si:H) in which a metastable reduction in photoconductivity is observable[13] (see Staebler–Wronski effect). Other materials that were reported to exhibit negative photoconductivity include ZnO nanowires,[14] molybdenum disulfide,[15] graphene,[16] indium arsenide nanowires,[17] decorated carbon nanotubes,[18] and metal nanoparticles.[19]

Under an applied AC voltage and upon UV illumination, ZnO nanowires exhibit a continuous transition from positive to negative photoconductivity as a function of the AC frequency.[14] ZnO nanowires also display a frequency-driven metal-insulator transition at room temperature. The responsible mechanism for both transitions has been attributed to a competition between bulk conduction and surface conduction.[14] The frequency-driven bulk-to-surface transition of conductivity is expected to be a generic character of semiconductor nanostructures with the large surface-to-volume ratio.

Magnetic photoconductivity[edit]

In 2016 it was demonstrated that in some photoconductive material a magnetic order can exist.[20] One prominent example is CH3NH3(Mn:Pb)I3. In this material a light induced magnetization melting was also demonstrated[20] thus could be used in magneto optical devices and data storage.

Photoconductivity spectroscopy[edit]

The characterization technique called photoconductivity spectroscopy (also known as photocurrent spectroscopy) is widely used in studying optoelectronic properties of semiconductors.[21][22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ DeWerd, L. A.; P. R. Moran (1978). "Solid-state electrophotography with Al2O3". Medical Physics. 5 (1): 23–26. Bibcode:1978MedPh...5...23D. doi:10.1118/1.594505. PMID 634229.
  2. ^ Saghaei, Jaber; Fallahzadeh, Ali; Saghaei, Tayebeh (June 2016). "Vapor treatment as a new method for photocurrent enhancement of UV photodetectors based on ZnO nanorods". Sensors and Actuators A: Physical. 247: 150–155. doi:10.1016/j.sna.2016.05.050.
  3. ^ a b Pearsall, Thomas (2010). Photonics Essentials, 2nd edition. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-162935-5.
  4. ^ Law, Kock Yee (1993). "Organic photoconductive materials: recent trends and developments". Chemical Reviews. 93: 449–486. doi:10.1021/cr00017a020.
  5. ^ Belev, G.; Kasap, S. O. (2004-10-15). "Amorphous selenium as an X-ray photoconductor". Journal of Non-Crystalline Solids. Physics of Non-Crystalline Solids 10. 345–346: 484–488. Bibcode:2004JNCS..345..484B. doi:10.1016/j.jnoncrysol.2004.08.070. ISSN 0022-3093.
  6. ^ Weiss, David S.; Abkowitz, Martin (2010-01-13). "Advances in Organic Photoconductor Technology". Chemical Reviews. 110 (1): 479–526. doi:10.1021/cr900173r. ISSN 0009-2665. PMID 19848380.
  7. ^ Cai, Wensi; Li, Haiyun; Li, Mengchao; Wang, Meng; Wang, Huaxin; Chen, Jiangzhao; Zang, Zhigang (2021-05-13). "Opportunities and challenges of inorganic perovskites in high-performance photodetectors". Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics. 54 (29): 293002. Bibcode:2021JPhD...54C3002C. doi:10.1088/1361-6463/abf709. ISSN 0022-3727. S2CID 234883317.
  8. ^ Aragoni, M. Carla; Arca, Massimiliano; Devillanova, Francesco A.; Isaia, Francesco; Lippolis, Vito; Mancini, Annalisa; Pala, Luca; Verani, Gaetano; Agostinelli, Tiziano; Caironi, Mario; Natali, Dario (2007-02-01). "First example of a near-IR photodetector based on neutral [M(R-dmet)2] bis(1,2-dithiolene) metal complexes". Inorganic Chemistry Communications. 10 (2): 191–194. doi:10.1016/j.inoche.2006.10.019. ISSN 1387-7003.
  9. ^ Pintus, Anna; Ambrosio, Lucia; Aragoni, M. Carla; Binda, Maddalena; Coles, Simon J.; Hursthouse, Michael B.; Isaia, Francesco; Lippolis, Vito; Meloni, Giammarco; Natali, Dario; Orton, James B. (2020-05-04). "Photoconducting Devices with Response in the Visible–Near-Infrared Region Based on Neutral Ni Complexes of Aryl-1,2-dithiolene Ligands". Inorganic Chemistry. 59 (9): 6410–6421. doi:10.1021/acs.inorgchem.0c00491. hdl:11311/1146329. ISSN 0020-1669. PMID 32302124. S2CID 215809603.
  10. ^ Hernández-Acosta, M A; Trejo-Valdez, M; Castro-Chacón, J H; Torres-San Miguel, C R; Martínez-Gutiérrez, H; Torres-Torres, C (23 February 2018). "Chaotic signatures of photoconductive Cu ZnSnS nanostructures explored by Lorenz attractors". New Journal of Physics. 20 (2): 023048. Bibcode:2018NJPh...20b3048H. doi:10.1088/1367-2630/aaad41.
  11. ^ Rose, Albert (1963). Photoconductivity and Allied Problems. Interscience tracts on physics and astronomy. Wiley Interscience. ISBN 0-88275-568-4.
  12. ^ N V Joshi (25 May 1990). Photoconductivity: Art: Science & Technology. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8247-8321-1.
  13. ^ Staebler, D. L.; Wronski, C. R. (1977). "Reversible conductivity changes in discharge-produced amorphous Si". Applied Physics Letters. 31 (4): 292. Bibcode:1977ApPhL..31..292S. doi:10.1063/1.89674. ISSN 0003-6951.
  14. ^ a b c Javadi, Mohammad; Abdi, Yaser (2018-07-30). "Frequency-driven bulk-to-surface transition of conductivity in ZnO nanowires". Applied Physics Letters. 113 (5): 051603. doi:10.1063/1.5039474. ISSN 0003-6951.
  15. ^ Serpi, A. (1992). "Negative Photoconductivity in MoS2". Physica Status Solidi A. 133 (2): K73–K77. Bibcode:1992PSSAR.133...73S. doi:10.1002/pssa.2211330248. ISSN 0031-8965.
  16. ^ Heyman, J. N.; Stein, J. D.; Kaminski, Z. S.; Banman, A. R.; Massari, A. M.; Robinson, J. T. (2015). "Carrier heating and negative photoconductivity in graphene". Journal of Applied Physics. 117 (1): 015101. arXiv:1410.7495. Bibcode:2015JAP...117a5101H. doi:10.1063/1.4905192. ISSN 0021-8979. S2CID 118531249.
  17. ^ Alexander-Webber, Jack A.; Groschner, Catherine K.; Sagade, Abhay A.; Tainter, Gregory; Gonzalez-Zalba, M. Fernando; Di Pietro, Riccardo; Wong-Leung, Jennifer; Tan, H. Hoe; Jagadish, Chennupati (2017-12-11). "Engineering the Photoresponse of InAs Nanowires". ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. 9 (50): 43993–44000. doi:10.1021/acsami.7b14415. hdl:1885/237356. ISSN 1944-8244. PMID 29171260.
  18. ^ Jiménez-Marín, E.; Villalpando, I.; Trejo-Valdez, M.; Cervantes-Sodi, F.; Vargas-García, J. R.; Torres-Torres, C. (2017-06-01). "Coexistence of positive and negative photoconductivity in nickel oxide decorated multiwall carbon nanotubes". Materials Science and Engineering: B. 220: 22–29. doi:10.1016/j.mseb.2017.03.004. ISSN 0921-5107.
  19. ^ Nakanishi, Hideyuki; Bishop, Kyle J. M.; Kowalczyk, Bartlomiej; Nitzan, Abraham; Weiss, Emily A.; Tretiakov, Konstantin V.; Apodaca, Mario M.; Klajn, Rafal; Stoddart, J. Fraser; Grzybowski, Bartosz A. (2009). "Photoconductance and inverse photoconductance in films of functionalized metal nanoparticles". Nature. 460 (7253): 371–375. Bibcode:2009Natur.460..371N. doi:10.1038/nature08131. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 19606145. S2CID 4425298.
  20. ^ a b Náfrádi, Bálint (24 November 2016). "Optically switched magnetism in photovoltaic perovskite CH3NH3(Mn:Pb)I3". Nature Communications. 7 (13406): 13406. arXiv:1611.08205. Bibcode:2016NatCo...713406N. doi:10.1038/ncomms13406. PMC 5123013. PMID 27882917.
  21. ^ "RSC Definition - Photocurrent spectroscopy". RSC. Retrieved 2020-07-19.
  22. ^ Lamberti, Carlo; Agostini, Giovanni (2013). "15.3 - Photocurrent spectroscopy". Characterization of Semiconductor Heterostructures and Nanostructures (2 ed.). Italy: Elsevier. pp. 652–655. doi:10.1016/B978-0-444-59551-5.00001-7. ISBN 978-0-444-59551-5.