The design of a transistor allows it to function as an amplifier or a switch. This is accomplished by using a small amount of electricity to control a gate on a much larger supply of electricity, much like turning a valve to control a supply of water.
Transistors are composed of three parts – a base, a collector, and an emitter. The base is the gate controller device for the larger electrical supply. The collector is the larger electrical supply, and the emitter is the outlet for that supply. By sending varying levels of current from the base, the amount of current flowing through the gate from the collector may be regulated. In this way, a very small amount of current may be used to control a large amount of current, as in an amplifier. The same process is used to create the binary code for the digital processors but in this case a voltage threshold of five volts is needed to open the collector gate. In this way, the transistor is being used as a switch with a binary function: five volts – ON, less than five volts – OFF.
Semi-conductive materials are what make the transistor possible. Most people are familiar with electrically conductive and non-conductive materials. Metals are typically thought of as being conductive. Materials such as wood, plastics, glass and ceramics are non-conductive, or insulators. In the late 1940’s a team of scientists working at Bell Labs in New Jersey, discovered how to take certain types of crystals and use them as electronic control devices by exploiting their semi-conductive properties.Most non-metallic crystalline structures would typically be considered insulators. But by forcing crystals of germanium or silicon to grow with impurities such as boron or phosphorus, the crystals gain entirely different electrical conductive properties. By sandwiching this material between two conductive plates (the emitter and the collector), a transistor is made. By applying current to the semi-conductive material (base), electrons gather until an effectual conduit is formed allowing electricity to pass The scientists that were responsible for the invention of the transistor were John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley. Their Patent was called: “Three Electrode Circuit Element Utilizing Semiconductive Materials.”