The time delayed failure of a mesa diode is explained on the basis of dendritic growth on the oxide passivated diode side walls. Lead dendrites nucleated at the p+ side Pb-Sn solder metallization and grew towards the n side metallization. The infinitesimal cross section area of the dendrites was not sufficient to allow them to directly affect the electrical behavior of the high voltage power diodes. However, the electric fields associated with the dendrites caused sharp band bending near the silicon-oxide interface leading to electron tunneling across the band gap at velocities high enough to cause impact ionization and ultimately the avalanche breakdown of the diode. Damage was confined to a narrow path on the diode side wall because of the limited influence of the electric field associated with the dendrite. The paper presents experimental details that led to the discovery of the dendrites. The observed failures are explained in the context of classical semiconductor physics and electrochemistry.

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