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A photodiode is a semiconductor device that converts light into current. The current is generated when photons are absorbed in the photodiode. A small amount of current is also produced when no light is present. Photodiodes may contain optical filters, built-in lenses, and may have large or small surface areas. Photodiodes usually have a slower response time as its surface area increases. The common, traditional solar cell used to generate electric solar power is a large area photodiode.
Photodiodes are similar to regular semiconductor diodes except that they may be either exposed (to detect vacuum UV or X-rays) or packaged with a window or optical fiber connection to allow light to reach the sensitive part of the device. Many diodes designed for use specifically as a photodiode use a PIN junction rather than a p–n junction, to increase the speed of response. A photodiode is designed to operate in reverse bias.