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A photoresistor or light-dependent resistor (LDR) or photocell is a light-controlled variable resistor. The resistance of a photoresistor decreases with increasing incident light intensity; in other words, it exhibits photoconductivity. A photoresistor can be applied in light-sensitive detector circuits, and light- and dark-activated switching circuits.
A photoresistor is made of a high resistance semiconductor. In the dark, a photoresistor can have a resistance as high as a few megaohms (MΩ), while in the light, a photoresistor can have a resistance as low as a few hundred ohms. If incident light on a photoresistor exceeds a certain frequency, photons absorbed by the semiconductor give bound electrons enough energy to jump into the conduction band. The resulting free electrons (and their hole partners) conduct electricity, thereby lowering resistance. The resistance range and sensitivity of a photoresistor can substantially differ among dissimilar devices. Moreover, unique photoresistors may react substantially differently to photons within certain wavelength bands.
A photoelectric device can be either intrinsic or extrinsic. An intrinsic semiconductor has its own charge carriers and is not an efficient semiconductor, for example, silicon. In intrinsic devices the only available electrons are in the valence band, and hence the photon must have enough energy to excite the electron across the entire bandgap. Extrinsic devices have impurities, also called dopants, added whose ground state energy is closer to the conduction band; since the electrons do not have as far to jump, lower energy photons (that is, longer wavelengths and lower frequencies) are sufficient to trigger the device. If a sample of silicon has some of its atoms replaced by phosphorus atoms (impurities), there will be extra electrons available for conduction. This is an example of an extrinsic semiconductor.
There are many types of photoresistors, with different specifications and models. Photoresistors can be coated with or packaged in different materials that vary the resistance, depending on the use for each LDR.
Photoresistors come in many types. Inexpensive cadmium sulphide cells can be found in many consumer items such as camera light meters, street lights, clock radios, alarm devices, night lights, outdoor clocks, solar street lamps and solar road studs, etc.
Lead sulphide (PbS) and indium antimonide (InSb) LDRs (light-dependent resistors) are used for the mid-infrared spectral region. Ge:Cu photoconductors are among the best far-infrared detectors available, and are used for infrared astronomy and infrared spectroscopy.