Can someone explain me what a zener diode does?

Can someone explain me what a zener diode does? I don't know what the turn on and breakdown voltage mean, and what forward and reverse biased means.
And what the difference between a zener and a normal diode is?

Thx very much
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 Recognitions: Gold Member Science Advisor I recently built a circuit in which we ued Zeners as a sort of presuure-regulating valve. A Zener can work like a regular diode. If a voltage is applied in one direction (any voltage above about .6V), it will allow current to flow. That is the "forward-biased" direction for both the Zener and the regular diode. But, with the regular diode, voltage applied in the opposite direction will not cause the diode to conduct, no matter how much voltage is applied. Of course, you could apply enough voltage to make the charge arch across the diode, but the diode would be destroyed, and the voltage required would be ridiculously large. With the Zener, you can apply a certain voltage in the reverse direction (reverse biasing), and the Zener will fire and allow a controlled current to pass through. The required voltage is dtermined by what kind of Zener you use. In our circtuit, the Zener fires whenever the output exceeds 5V. That is its firing votage, or turn-on voltage. This ensures that our output device, which is an OpAmp capable of sending 15V + or-, will never put more than 5V into the next input, a 5V Nand Gate. For this reason, Zeners are almost exclusively used in reverse-biased applications, because in forward-bias, they behave exactly like a regular diode, but cost a lot more. Whereas, in reverse-bias, they do a job that a regular diode can't.
 Recognitions: Gold Member Science Advisor Just to add to what Lurch said, the breakdown voltage is the minimum reverse voltage needed to make the Zener diode conduct in reverse.

Can someone explain me what a zener diode does?

Here's a great website that I reference all the time for electronics info. They have a very nice section devoted to explaining all the different kinds of diodes, including zener ones:

- Jason O
 zeners are good for limiting the voltage on a node. They are used for TVS/ESD protection to shunt any extra voltage above its breakdown voltage, thereby protecting the node its on from going too high in voltage. They are also used in different power regulators, because they can force a constant voltage output of your regulator (if the regulator gives too much voltage out, the zener will just break down and drop only its breakdown voltage across itself, the rest is eliminated through current passing through the zener). They have a "knee" in the reverse bias region of a Vd Vs. Id curve, and once you get to this knee, the diode begins to conduct.
 I am getting confused with the effect of Zener diodes on the width of the depletion region. Does it inc or dec? I know that its of the order 10^-6..but in general does depletion rgn inc/dec. Also, the Juction Field..what happens to it? Thanks a lot Aparna

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