A semiconductor device is one made of silicon or any number of other specially prepared materials designed to exploit the unique properties of electrons in a crystal lattice, where electrons are not as free to move as in a conductor but are far more mobile than in an insulator. A discrete device is one contained in its own package, not built on a common semiconductor substrate with other components, as is the case with ICs, or integrated circuits. Thus, “discrete semiconductor circuits” are circuits built out of individual semiconductor components, connected together on some kind of circuit board or terminal strip. These circuits employ all the components and concepts explored in the previous chapters, so a firm comprehension of DC and AC electricity is essential before embarking on these experiments.
Just for fun, one circuit is included in this section using a vacuum tube for amplification instead of a semiconductor transistor. Before the advent of transistors, “vacuum tubes” were the workhorses of the electronics industry: used to make rectifiers, amplifiers, oscillators, and many other circuits. Though now considered obsolete for most purposes, there are still some applications for vacuum tubes, and it can be fun building and operating circuits using these devices.