An exciton is a bound state of an electron and an electron hole which are attracted to each other by the electrostatic Coulomb force. It is an electrically neutral quasiparticle that exists in insulators, semiconductors and some liquids. The exciton is regarded as an elementary excitation of condensed matter that can transport energy without transporting net electric charge.
An exciton can form when a material absorbs a photon of higher energy than its bandgap. This excites an electron from the valence band into the conduction band. In turn, this leaves behind a positively charged electron hole (an abstraction for the location from which an electron was moved). The electron in the conduction band is then less attracted to this localized hole due to the repulsive Coulomb forces from large numbers of electrons surrounding the hole and excited electron. These repulsive forces provide a stabilizing energy balance. Consequently, the exciton has slightly less energy than the unbound electron and hole. The wavefunction of the bound state is said to be hydrogenic, an exotic atom state akin to that of a hydrogen atom. However, the binding energy is much smaller and the particle's size much larger than a hydrogen atom. This is because of both the screening of the Coulomb force by other electrons in the semiconductor (i.e., its relative permittivity), and the small effective masses of the excited electron and hole. The recombination of the electron and hole, i.e., the decay of the exciton, is limited by resonance stabilization due to the overlap of the electron and hole wave functions, resulting in an extended lifetime for the exciton.
The electron and hole may have either parallel or anti-parallel spins. The spins are coupled by the exchange interaction, giving rise to exciton fine structure. In periodic lattices, the properties of an exciton show momentum (k-vector) dependence.
The concept of excitons was first proposed by Yakov Frenkel in 1931, when he described the excitation of atoms in a lattice of insulators. He proposed that this excited state would be able to travel in a particle-like fashion through the lattice without the net transfer of charge.
Excitons are often treated in the two limiting cases of small dielectric constant versus large dielectric constant; corresponding to Frenkel exciton and Wannier–Mott exciton respectively.