Voltage Divider Light Sensor - LDR

Voltage Divider Light Sensor - LDR

A graphic showing an example of a voltage divider. An LDR is connected in parallel to a resistor and an input voltage. The output voltage is the voltage across the resistor. The output is high if there is light incident on the LDR.

A Light Sensor generates an output signal indicating the intensity of light by measuring the radiant energy that exists in a very narrow range of frequencies basically called “light”, and which ranges in frequency from “Infra-red” to “Visible” up to “Ultraviolet” light spectrum.

The Light Sensor is a passive devices that convert this “light energy” whether visible or in the infra-red parts of the spectrum into an electrical signal output. Light sensors are more commonly known as “Photoelectric Devices” or “Photo Sensors” because the convert light energy (photons) into electricity (electrons).

Photoelectric devices can be grouped into two main categories, those which generate electricity when illuminated, such as Photo-voltaics or Photo-emissives etc, and those which change their electrical properties in some way such as Photo-resistors or Photo-conductors. This leads to the following classification of devices.

  • • Photo-emissive Cells – These are photodevices which release free electrons from a light sensitive material such as caesium when struck by a photon of sufficient energy. The amount of energy the photons have depends on the frequency of the light and the higher the frequency, the more energy the photons have converting light energy into electrical energy.
  • • Photo-conductive Cells – These photodevices vary their electrical resistance when subjected to light. Photoconductivity results from light hitting a semiconductor material which controls the current flow through it. Thus, more light increase the current for a given applied voltage. The most common photoconductive material is Cadmium Sulphide used in LDR photocells.
  • • Photo-voltaic Cells – These photodevices generate an emf in proportion to the radiant light energy received and is similar in effect to photoconductivity. Light energy falls on to two semiconductor materials sandwiched together creating a voltage of approximately 0.5V. The most common photovoltaic material is Selenium used in solar cells.
  • • Photo-junction Devices – These photodevices are mainly true semiconductor devices such as the photodiode or phototransistor which use light to control the flow of electrons and holes across their PN-junction. Photojunction devices are specifically designed for detector application and light penetration with their spectral response tuned to the wavelength of incident light.

A Photoconductive light sensor does not produce electricity but simply changes its physical properties when subjected to light energy. The most common type of photoconductive device is the Photoresistor which changes its electrical resistance in response to changes in the light intensity.

Photoresistors are Semiconductor devices that use light energy to control the flow of electrons, and hence the current flowing through them. The commonly used Photoconductive Cell is called the Light Dependent Resistor or LDR.

As its name implies, the Light Dependent Resistor (LDR) is made from a piece of exposed semiconductor material such as cadmium sulphide that changes its electrical resistance from several thousand Ohms in the dark to only a few hundred Ohms when light falls upon it by creating hole-electron pairs in the material.

The net effect is an improvement in its conductivity with a decrease in resistance for an increase in illumination. Also, photoresistive cells have a long response time requiring many seconds to respond to a change in the light intensity.

Materials used as the semiconductor substrate include, lead sulphide (PbS), lead selenide (PbSe), indium antimonide (InSb) which detect light in the infra-red range with the most commonly used of all photoresistive light sensors being Cadmium Sulphide (Cds).

Cadmium sulphide is used in the manufacture of photoconductive cells because its spectral response curve closely matches that of the human eye and can even be controlled using a simple torch as a light source. Typically then, it has a peak sensitivity wavelength (λp) of about 560nm to 600nm in the visible spectral range.

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