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We have identified the charge accumulation effects in a resonant tunneling diode for the application of optical switching by observing the hole tunneling peak under illumination with a Ti:sapphire laser. Two mechanisms, photocurrent and charge accumulation, are rigorously examined to determine which one is the dominant effect for optical switching by comparing the current–voltage (I–V) characteristics for forward biases and reverse biases. It is believed that the hole accumulation effect in the depletion region, which results in the hole tunneling current, is responsible for the shift of the I–V curves. © 1995 American Institute of Physics.