Most of microcontrollers work within 5 volt environment and the I/O port can only handle current up to 20mA; therefore if we want to attach the microcontroller’s I/O port to different voltage level circuit or to drive devices with more than 20mA; we need to use the interface circuit. One of the popular method is to use the Bipolar Junction Transistor (BJT) or we just called it transistor in this tutorial. I have to make clear on this BJT type to differentiate among the other types of transistors family such as FET (Field Effect Transistor), MOSFET (Metal Oxide Semiconductor FET), VMOS (Vertical MOSFET) and UJT (Uni-Junction Transistor).
A. The Switch
The transistor actually works as a current gainer; any current applied to the base terminal will be multiplied by the current gain factor of the transistor which known as hFE. Therefore transistor can be used as amplifier; any small signal (very small current) applied to the base terminal will be amplified by the factor of hFE and reflected as a collector current on the collector terminal side.
- Off state: in this state there is no base current applied or IB = 0.
- On active state: in this state any changes in IB will cause changes in IC as well or IC = IB x hFE. This type of state is suitable when we use transistor as a signal amplifier because transistor is said is in the linear state. For example if we have a transistor with gain of 100 and we increase the IB from 10uA to 100uA; this will cause the IC to swing from 1000uA to 10000uA (1 mA to 10 mA).
- On saturate state: in this state any changes in IB will not cause changes in IC anymore (not linear) or we could say IC is nearly constant. We never use this state to run the transistor as a signal amplifier (class A amplifier) because the output signal will be clamped when the transistor is saturate. This is the type of state that we are looking for on this tutorial.
From the picture above we could see the voltage and current condition of transistor on each state; if you notice when transistor is in off state the voltage across collector and emitter terminal is equal to the supplied voltage, this is equivalent to the open circuit and when transistor is in saturate state the collector to emitter voltage is equal or less then 0.2 Volt which is equivalent to the close circuit. Therefore to use transistor as a switch we have to make transistor OFF which equivalent to the logical “0” and SATURATE which is equivalent to the logical “1“.
For more detail: Using Transistor as a Switch