Although there are some significant exceptions, most important glass-forming systems contain elements from the sixth, or chalcogenide, column of the periodic table (oxygen, sulfur, selenium, or tellurium). The glasses which contain oxygen are typically insulators, while those which contain the heavier chalcogen elements are usually semiconductors. Even though oxygen is technically a chalcogen element, the term “chalcogenide glass” is commonly used to denote those largely covalent, semiconducting glasses which contain sulfur, selenium, or tellurium as one of the constituents.
The chalcogenide glasses are called semiconducting glasses because of their electrical properties. The electrical conductivity in these glasses depends exponentially on the temperature with an activation energy which is approximately one half of the optical gap. In this sense these glasses exhibit electrical properties similar to those in intrinsic crystalline semiconductors. The analogy is by no means perfect. The mobilities for the charge carriers in these glasses are very low (< 10 cm2/V-s) compared to crystalline semiconductors, and there are even discrepancies in determining the sign of the charge carriers from measurements of the Hall effect and the Seebeck effect.
The first detailed studies of the chalcogenide glasses were performed about 30 years ago. For many years the prototype compositions have been selenium (Se), arsenic triselenide (As2Se3) or arsenic trisulfide (As2S3), and germanium diselenide (GeSe2) or germanium disulfide (GeS2).