Transistors are no doubt one of humankinds greatest inventions. However, the associated greatness brings with it unprecedented complexity under the hood. To fully understand how a transistor works, one needs to be familiar with some Quantum Mechanics! As perhaps any EE undergraduate would tell you, one of the hardest subject to fathom is in fact semiconductor physics.
A good place to start to comprehend anything complex is by having an accurate but most importantly, tangible model at hand. Semiconductors are hard enough to describe with elaborate mathematical tools, is a physical model too much to ask?
[Chuck] has designed, printed and explained the workings of a BJT transistor using a 3D printed model. We really like this model because it goes a long way to shed light on some of the more subtle features of BJT transistors for beginners.
For example, the simplest “electronic switch” model completely ignores the application of a transistor as a linear amplifier and cannot be used to explain important transistor parameters such as hfe (DC current gain Beta) or the VBE (voltage to forward bias the base-emitter junction). [Chuck’s] model on the other hand certainly offers better intuition on these, as the former can be linked to the length of the levers arm and the latter to the minimum force needed to rotate the lever. The Tee structure even signifies the combination of base current with the collector current during operation!
If physical models are not your thing, the classic pictorial depiction, the “Transistor Man” in the Art of Electronics might be of interest. If you’ve even outgrown that, its time to dig into the quantum mechanics involved.