Firstly I would like to emphasise the word avalanche as it's fundamental to my question. I'm not concerned with shot noise, thermal noise or trash music.

There is a video that explains the avalanche effect inside a Zener diode, from which the screen grab below is taken. In summary, the effect occurs as charge induced kinetic energy starts a cascade of electrons through the semiconductor, in a manner akin to a snow avalanche.


I believe that electrons are fundamental quantum particles so the Uncertainty principle should apply. By definition, this means that the exact path of the cascading electrons and therefore the overall current flow can only be modelled stochastically. Specifically, it cannot be modelled deterministically no matter how powerful your computer is, even if it were the latest quantum machine from IBM or Google. So if you had a very large computer, a shed load of differential equations trying to model the electron trajectories, it still couldn't possibly work due to the Heisenberg effect.

Is this correct?

This is a cunningly disguised XY cryptography question. Quantum random number generators are flogged for lots of £££ and marketed on the basis that quantum randomness is more random than classic RNGs A quantum RNG might use a laser whilst a classic RNG might use avalanche noise. The marketing basically implies that diodes are deterministic /predictable given a quantum computer. I wanted an EE perspective from inside a Zener.

Does a reverse-biased P-N junction create quantum noise does not immediately apply to my question as that only deals with low bias voltages with is not the avalanche effect. Also the accepted answer is shot noise based, not avalanche noise based and these are significantly different.

  • \$\begingroup\$ At the low level, everything is quantized. What you are really asking therefore is whether in this case enough quantum effects can be averaged together to allow the abstraction of a continuous process. That's a physics question. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 29, 2017 at 13:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop Well yes & no. I guess I'm asking if my model is correct in the first place. Just is it quantum? That would be sufficient. There's all sorts of wacky theories on that video site and I'm stupid. I asked here as the question has the words Zener, current and electron in it. There are other quantumy /semiconductory questions here... \$\endgroup\$
    – Paul Uszak
    Sep 29, 2017 at 13:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is still too low level for most of EEs to be willing to descend to it. I would second the suggestion to migrate it to Physics SE. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eugene Sh.
    Sep 29, 2017 at 13:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Paul, the answer is that you won't be able to flog this idea for lots of cash. The individual event starting the cascade is quantum, but at the observational level (unless you come up with something truly novel) it's become the result of "large population statistics," which are decidedly as "normal" as the pressure in your tire. If you can come up with a way to leverage something (as Bell did with his "inequality"), it might be worth some added thought. You can test his inequality with real equipment and regular measuring techniques. But it took Bell to figure it out. So that's your problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – jonk
    Sep 29, 2017 at 17:24

1 Answer 1


Yes, all solid-state physics at that level of detail is quantum mechanical. Why would you think otherwise?

In fact, when you get right down to it, there are no particles at all, only fields. Talking about "the kinetic energy of a particle" is merely a useful abstraction in certain contexts.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hey Dave, why does a zener not have a negative resistance in its quantum mechanical effect? And you obviously know nothing about the avalanche effects of particles in a dielectric called PD. your deletion of my answer gives bias and poor perspective and yours is partly wrong. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 29, 2017 at 13:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TonyStewart.EEsince'75: If you have a new question, please use the "Ask Question" button at the top of the page. Include a link to this question in yours if it provides context. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Sep 29, 2017 at 13:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I had answers with valid perspectives on quantum effects with negative resistance. and you still ignored my valid complaints.. again . 3wrongs do not make you right. -ve R, particles , PD etc. yet you presume to be \$\endgroup\$ Sep 29, 2017 at 14:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why do I think otherwise? Actually I don't. This is a cunningly disguised X-Y cryptography question. Quantum random number generators are flogged for lots of £££ and marketed on the basis that quantum randomness is more random than classic RNGs based on things like diode noise. I wanted an EE perspective from inside a Zener... \$\endgroup\$
    – Paul Uszak
    Sep 29, 2017 at 14:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wondered why you included the random tag. You should add this clarification to your question -- you'll probably get more relevant answers that way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Sep 29, 2017 at 14:19

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